Columnist

Pat Nevin pinpoints what made for an entertaining game and how Chelsea can stay in the top four

The winter break is upon us, and that means a good time to take stock of the season so far. Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin does just that, but not before looking at the Leicester game…


The mid-season break is finally here and for some it couldn’t come quickly enough but for others, they possibly didn’t want it to happen at all. Toni Rudiger must be buzzing after his brace and probably wants another game tomorrow now that he has started scoring. His form has been excellent of late too, after his early-season injury problems, so he is one that probably doesn’t want or need a break.

I am guessing Reece James feels the same now that he seems something close to a fixture in the side, again after a little injury break, and he just wants it all to keep on going.

In reality however there are probably more who will be helped by a rest, even if they don’t know it themselves. The strains that have been put on Tammy Abraham means he will almost certainly come back rejuvenated after some respite. Doubtless he doesn’t feel too bad right now, but the physical wear and tear from playing up top and the pressure of expectation, means he could do with a little bit of relief. He will be able to take a step back for a week or so and get his head round what is happening and how he can improve even further, instead of always preparing for the next big match with scarcely a breather.

Read: Tammy Abraham talks about the winter break

Everybody needed at least a bit of a breather anyway after the Leicester City game at the weekend. I know we all love to pick up three points but other than that it was one of the most, if not the most enjoyable games I have been to this season, involving any team, not just Chelsea. And I go to a lot of games!

It was so ‘old school’ from start to finish. It was played at full speed with wave after wave of attacks by both teams. How many times to you watch Premier League games when even the best teams seem to be concerned about possession for possession’s sake, rather than simply getting up the pitch at pace and making chances. For this type of game to happen it takes both teams to buy into it and give them their due, Leicester City had a go as well.
 

It just reminds you how many teams are strangled by negativity and although I know why they do it, and do not complain because it could give them their best chance of getting something, it doesn’t often make for a hugely entertaining spectacle.

Maybe my mind plays tricks on me but this kind of open, gung-ho play by both teams was not uncommon in the days before the Premier League. Just about every team in the top league had a go every week, whether it was at home or away. Some might not have had anywhere near the technical ability of their opponents, but their answer wasn’t to defend in numbers, it was to try and show more spirit, more team work and more fight. Part of the reason why you can’t do that anymore is that ‘fighting spirit’ means something different now and the lesser teams can’t go about throwing in as many crunching tackles. They would end up with eight men, or less!

There are positives and negatives to the changes in refereeing and this is coming from someone who was kicked a good deal more than most back in the ‘bad old days’. You wouldn’t want the bully boy mentality to prevail again, but I just wonder if some referees are to prone to think every single little nudge must be a foul and two of them equal a booking. It leads to safe and in the end ultra-negative play. Our ref on Saturday was far too picky for my liking, but the players just got on with it and provided a spectacle anyway.

So well done the players but in this case you have to say that attitude springs directly from the coaches.
 

We were chatting on the pre-match show on The 5th Stand at the weekend and I was asked, ‘Do you see Frank being more negative or a bit safer with his tactics today?’ It is a perfectly reasonable question except for the fact that it seems almost alien to Frank’s outlook on the game. As a player I would bet my house that he never walked onto a football field from the Bernabeu to Burnden Park and didn’t think he could win the game.

Happily, that mentality has followed him into his managerial career. He might be sensible, and he will now and again even pull back on the throttle a little, he isn’t naïve. But safe or ultra-defensive? No chance. So, with him and Brendan Rogers at the respective helms they slugged it out in a cracker of a cup-tie-styled match. I would watch that every single week.

Now that we have reached the break and are still holding on to fourth place, it is tempting to a have a little look back over the season so far. A bit of perspective is possible with a bit of breathing space. Clearly most Chelsea fans feel we are still ahead of the expected curve and I would agree with that. Especially in the fact that we haven’t, for different reasons, been able to bring in new blood in two transfer windows now.

I look back in a different way. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what Frank and Jody’s style would be when they came in and that is the thing that has impressed me most. Watching Chelsea is generally an enjoyable and entertaining experience. The matches that haven’t been entertaining usually have the finger of blame being pointed at the opposition for their extreme negativity. You can’t blame Frank and his team for that.

So, what do we need from here on in to stay in the top four and ensure another season in the Champions League? Well clearly, we must find ways of breaking down massed defences, especially when they turn up at Stamford Bridge.
 

The second thing is related to the first. Last season Liverpool’s two full-backs assisted in 30 goals! That is an incredible number and we have to get our numbers up in that area. With Reece James playing in the number of world-class crosses that he is, we need to finish them off more regularly. Can you imagine how many goals Frank Lampard would have scored from those deliveries with his ability to time his runs?

If we can do that, then we have a great chance of staying in the top four. And that would be well ahead of all expectations at the start of the season.
 

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