Columnist

Pat Nevin: The place will be buzzing

As the excitement builds with the potential return of the Premier League approaching, former Blue Pat Nevin reckons there will be a real pre-season feel at Cobham as thoughts turn to what the first team selection will be…


It used to be a rare phenomenon but these days it isn’t. You sit down at the computer to write down some ideas and then wonder will this be obsolete by the time anyone gets to read it.

So, I am just going to say it and take my chances. I am looking forward to the first game back and I actually believe it is going to happen now. I am hoping that statement still makes sense in a few hours' time or indeed, in a week or two.

In a fast-changing world, who knows really, but things surprise me every day when I take myself out of the lockdown bubble. I mean it is June already, shouldn’t we be talking about holidays, the European Championships, new players coming into the club and other players saying a sad goodbye?

Instead I am wondering what side Frank will put out in the first game back and realising I haven’t a clue. It is great to be thinking, at least some of the time, about football and all those little uncertainties instead of the big existential problems for our societies. Maybe this is why football’s return is so important. It takes us away from other important things for a short while.

So I will say that Frank Lampard has a lot of ‘important’ decisions to make. He has put a lot of stock on who has trained well before choosing his team this season, but that will be different now in what is a fast-tracked pre-season training regime.

How do you really figure out who is in good form really? I reckon there will be much more guess work than there normally is. And what about those who were ‘flying’ just before the lockdown. It would feel very unfair on them if they were hoofed for the next game, even if there has been a few months in between those two fixtures.

Actually I have just realised a mistake there. There are certain phrases that have changed meaning over the last couple of months. So for clarity, when I said ‘flying’ I meant ‘playing well’ as opposed to actually flying in an airplane, which of course just about nobody is doing right now.
 

There are of course the players who could be available again after injuries. We hope that the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek are back to 100 per cent after such a long lay-off. There will also be the delicacy of those players who are expected to be leaving the club. Do you play them? That is never an easy decision.

They are still part of the group but will they be as motivated when that big 50/50 challenge comes, or will they be tempted not to go for it. The last thing a player wants when he is looking for a new club is to be injured!

In actual fact you should always go for that tackle because as all pros know (and plenty of weekend footballers are aware of too), you are much more likely to get injured not committing fully to a tackle than you would be if you went in with the right levels of desire. Personally, I can’t see a problem with commitment from any of those players who feel they might be moving on soon. Firstly, they have consistently shown good attitudes during their Chelsea careers and secondly, if you get a chance then what bigger shop window is there right at this moment than a game in the Premier League? It is however a perennial problem for football managers. This year it is just a bit more extreme.

|The other thing that helps the cause of total commitment from the entire squad is the honesty they have got from Frank Lampard throughout. Players react well to straight talking, even if it is hard to swallow what the manager is saying to them. What they cannot be doing with is coaches and managers not being straight with them.

The perfect example this season has been that willingness to simply play the player who is on the best form that given week. There has been no favouritism because you are a big name, are a fans’ favourite, have been at the club for ages or that the gaffer just likes you. None of that, it has been simple. If you are on the best form and showing a good attitude then you are in the team.

That is why Billy Gilmour is just the latest youngster to be fully trusted when other managers would have looked at everything from his age, height, lack of experience or whatever and decided not to throw him in against the mighty Liverpool.
 

Frank, Jody and the staff look at who is doing well in training, who is looking confident and of course who did well in last week’s game (though that obviously doesn’t count for as much just now) and they ignore the rest of the noise going on around them. Players love that, because they believe they just have to perform and they will get a chance. Olivier Giroud is another perfect example of that this season.

That dressing room must be an extraordinary place to be at the moment. It is totally different right now to how it has ever been before with the social distancing and adapted training, but there is still going to be extreme competition for places when the big day arrives.

Pre-season is always a tense time, because it feels to some degree that there is a completely blank slate, everyone is starting again, and the current situation will feel very similar. The place will be buzzing but there will also be that tension because of that desperation to be in the first 11 when it starts again. As a player you always believe if you have the shirt then you almost have to do something wrong to lose it, so getting the nod in the first game is vital.

So yes, I would openly struggle to pick what our team should be at the moment and I reckon Frank will feel the same, but it is a good problem to have. Maybe the biggest help in those difficult player discussions for the manager will be the possibility of using five subs, if we go down that route, or the fact that the games will be in quick succession when we start, so rotation will be more important than ever. We will need everyone for this run in if we are going to finish in the top four. Other clubs have got their full squads back together too so it is far from a foregone conclusion.

It should be exciting even as the games are played behind closed doors; when it is your own team and you are invested in the outcome it is always exciting no matter what. That said, if they add some crowd noise recorded from our previous games, I think I’ll put up with it. Those echoes in the stadium have been just too off putting in the Bundesliga. It is the only time I am willing to put up with fakery in football.

Roll on the real thing now!

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