Columnist

Pat Nevin: The art of making a change

With games coming thick and fast and more substitutions allowed than before, former Blue and columnist Pat Nevin writes about how Frank Lampard is using his combinations, and the big pool of talent he has in the middle of the park…


There is no doubt Chelsea have returned from the lockdown on better form than anyone else in the Premier League. Manchester City have done very well too, but we saw them off at the Bridge so surely that gives us the edge. A number of things have helped, but the depth and quality of the squad has arguably been Frank’s biggest advantage with the games so close together.

Quite clearly Frank has relished the opportunity to make changes and although he has previously shown that he has a talent for the art of when and where to make substitutions, right at this moment it is beginning to look positively occult. So, we were struggling to breakdown a resolute Aston Villa defence after losing a breakaway goal, Frank sent on Christian Pulisic and five minutes later he broke the deadlock. The obvious change would have been to take off Olivier Giroud and bring on Tammy, but Frank didn’t and of course our French forward duly scored the winner minutes later. Genius!
 

Was Frank just as impressive with his changes against Manchester City? This time he did take off Olivier and it took a whole 15 minutes for his replacement Tammy to make the crucial difference. He should have scored but Fernandinho handled on the line. Surely Frank couldn’t keep up these sensational substitutions against Leicester City, could he?

We actually yes he could, with bells on. Cesar Azpilicueta was brought on at half-time and he was crucial to the move on the right wing that led to Willian’s cross, which of course was directed in by our other substitute Ross Barkley. So that was a whole 18 minutes we had to wait until Frank’s substitutions won the game for us. It is an incredible run of form from the gaffer and I really do think it is more than a lucky streak. He sees where the problem is, which to be fair quite a few people can do, but he then makes the correct decisions to affect change and sometimes they are not the most obvious ones.

Read: Lampard explains his half-time changes
 

Against Leicester it was clear we were being bullied in the midfield all through that first half. It must have been a temptation to bring on Jorginho to get a grip of the game. I know it was my first thought as he would have helped us get some much-needed possession. There are few in the world game better at keeping the ball than him. Frank instead decided to go for Ross, Kovacic and Azpi which worked a treat (Dave spent a lot of time getting into that right-hand side of the midfield). We needed that extra physicality but there was something else going on.

The average age of the three who departed was 20 and the three who came on was over 27. This was crucial, because experience was also needed to change the entire feel of the game. Frank appears to have enjoyed the opportunity to make use of more subs, having made 13 changes in three games already. This goes back to the depth of the squad and the quality that Frank can choose from. It may be that some of the younger players will have a dip in form, that is not something to be too concerned about, that has happened since the dawn of history in the game. It is part of the learning curve and they will be fine.

Billy Gilmour had a tough afternoon at the King Power Stadium, but will that have a lasting effect? Yes it will, but in a good way. No one in the history of the game cruises through a career from day one without difficult times. You have to learn how to cope with it. He will be fine not only because of his talent and personality but also because of the management team and the kind of team-mates he has around him. He will be back on the pitch soon enough with their support and of course ours.

I will admit that I am now enjoying the games coming thick and fast, with the obvious caveat about the lack of fans in the stadiums, but that cannot be helped for the moment. Our three games so far have each been very entertaining and I suspect tomorrow will be no different. It sounds like an easier job having beaten Man City, Leicester, and even Liverpool just before the lock down, but it will not be a walk in the park. West Ham are scrapping for their Premier League survival and a timid first half like the one at Leicester will not be good enough against Davie Moyes’ side.

What 11 will Frank send out for this one? Now there is a question. Maybe the defence could be guessed at with some confidence but honestly who could you be absolutely certain that Frank will pick in that midfield? I do not think there is anything close to a recognised first-choice midfield three now.

Kovacic has been for many people our player of the year so far, but he didn’t start the last game. Jorginho hasn’t forced his way back into the side, but would you be surprised if he started against West Ham? No, neither would I. Even N’Golo Kante, who has been quietly brilliant as usual, I suspect he will start but will it be panic stations if he doesn’t? In all honesty again it is a resounding no.
 

Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Billy Gilmour, Ross Barkley, N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic. You could perm just about any three from them all and it would probably be good enough against most teams. Just to confuse things further, I reckon you could add Reece James into that list as he is exceptional in midfield too.

My maths is okay but even I can’t work out, off the top of my head, how many different combinations and permutations that Frank has in our engine room. Right at this moment I would be inclined to trust just about any one of them. Try it, think about any three of those eight names together and it looks perfectly good, doesn’t it.

So, lots to look forward to and a win against West Ham would put us in an incredible position regarding the top-four finish we all want. With a semi-final against Manchester United to look forward to as well, some may still bemoan the return of football but us Chelsea fans, we are having a ball.
 

Can you do better than Pat at predicting the result against West Ham? Play Predict to Win for the chance to win a signed Chelsea shirt

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