It is hard to tell the difference between a reality check, a minor dip or a little run of misfortune. Certainly the bare facts now state that it is three games without a win, even if the circumstances are unusual. Losing away against champions Man City was still a very good performance, a point over in Valencia in the Champions League was definitely better for us than it was for them, but the three dropped points against the Hammers was a bitter pill to swallow.
Is it time to panic yet after these three results? Absolutely not, we certainly had as many decent chances as West Ham and the statistics were off the scale in our favour. We had two-thirds of the possession and 19 shots on goal to five, though gauging by the TV highlights you might have thought it was the opposite way around! No matter, if we keep those levels up then the majority of those type of games will end in the three points residing at Stamford Bridge.
The weakness at corners seemed to be creeping back in at the weekend, so Frank and Jody will look at that too, but overall it was the usual open style that the fans have been getting used to of late.
There is no doubt that this open style will lead to some goals being lost. The game was summed up in a microcosm with Reece James. Yet again he sent in a torrent of fabulous, undefendable crosses that we just couldn’t get on the end of. Any striker and midfielder who sees him get on the ball on the right-hand side should not even think or even look now. He should just pin back his ears and bolt for the gap between the defenders and the goalkeeper because the ball invariably lands there, begging for a final touch.
So with Reece delivering that quality throughout, West Ham’s one goal came from his area, though it was hard to blame him. He sent Aaron Cresswell inside to where we should be strong, but the left-back struck early and brilliantly before we had the chance to close the space. You feel cheated as a player when you do so much good, positive work in the final third and the final result comes down to a goal emanating from your defensive area. Reece shouldn’t change anything however, his quality of crossing is up there with the very best and it will bear more fruit as the games go by.
The other thing to remember is that the team isn’t playing poorly or looking jaded. I was at the Liverpool v Brighton game on Saturday and the Reds are looking like a shadow of the side that was nigh on unbeatable last season. They found it close to impossible to get up for it during the entire second half and were lucky to hold on to three points even though they had a two-goal start and they were playing at home.
Last week I was also at the Man City v Shakhtar Donetsk game and Pep Guardiola’s side were similarly somnambulant. They were almost unrecognisable from the side who seem to win the league with ease up until this season. There are a few legs going there already.
With Manchester United and Arsenal also looking rather average and Spurs until the ‘Jose jump’ struggling too, it is worth considering our position and form in that light. Few teams are sparkling right now and many players are going through that dull phase that often happens in the winter months. Why does it happen? Well certainly the increased workload on players has an effect, especially those who have been on regular international duty, particularly if they have been so during the summer (or maybe two summers) before the season starts.
I get to see a lot of teams as I travel around, and the one thing Chelsea have not looked this season is tired or jaded to anywhere near the level that some of the others have. The downside is that there are still a few teams with that spring in their step and one of them will be turning up at the Bridge tomorrow. Aston Villa have a great youthful exuberance about them and this will be another high-tempo, high-energy game. Jack Grealish and John McGinn are non-stop bundles of energy with plenty of skill and no fear to boot. They have other worthy workers alongside them and as such it is certain to be another breathless 90 minutes.
Frank will have to think long and hard about the team sheet however, as the midfield dilemma I talked about last week still shows no obvious sign of becoming clearer. To be honest, I thought Jorginho and N’Golo Kante were ‘stick-ons’ and it was currently between Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount for the other berth. Like a few others I was surprised N’Golo was the player to be benched at the weekend, but that could have been down to rest needed, a niggling injury or any number of factors.
Maybe Willian had as much to be upset about as anyone when he also found himself on the bench. His form has been sparkling but then again, Pedro also needs game time and not everyone will be able to play in the entire 90 minutes in each of the eight games in the coming 28 days.
A game on average every three days (just less than that actually) will stress the squad, but no more than the squads of many of the teams around us. The tiring Liverpool have two more than us to fit in over the same period!
A win tomorrow against Villa will put a completely different spin on this period and we must remember the previous run of games was fantastic. That is what Frank will be telling the team, even if up until now he would have been saying ‘Don’t get carried away with the results’. Now it will be more like, ‘Remember how good those results and performances were’. The same attitude and form again and we are most likely to go on yet another decent run, hopefully starting tomorrow.