Columnist

Pat Nevin: It’s game time needed right now

During this quick turnaround time between league and cup matches, Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin writes about the Liverpool loss, this unusual early-season period for a new-look Chelsea squad, and the benefits of Barnsley at the Bridge so soon…


If ever there was a week when Chelsea wanted another game quickly, this is it. I have no doubt Frank had a host of ideas and tactical changes he was just about to make at half-time against Liverpool, just before Andreas Christensen got sent off. When the red card was flourished all his best-laid plans were tossed in the bin and he had to think quickly.

Ten men is a tough gig against anyone and, with the exception of Man City, Jurgen Klopp’s side are the worst opponents to be facing when you are a man light. Andreas will be gutted he got himself out of position and too far from his central defensive partner, allowing Sadio Mane to use his blistering pace to get through the gaping hole that was left. I get the feeling this sort of lapse in concentration is not the sort of thing Thiago Silva will allow to happen when he is in that back line.

The best and most experienced centre-backs talk their team-mates through games. If the younger partner has the audacity to step out of position or is caught ball watching, they get barked at to get back into the zone within seconds. A similar positional problem occurred against Arsenal in the FA Cup final. Once again I am convinced someone with Thiago Silva’s knowledge would not have allowed that problem to go unnoticed for long. I would love to see the Brazilian legend in anger in a Chelsea kit very soon. It will make a huge difference.
 

Frank tried a 4-3-2 in the second half against Liverpool and then switched to 4-4-1 when we shipped a couple of goals, but I am not convinced the system exists that would have got us out of jail at that particular time. It happens, they are a good side, we are just trying to gel the team together right now, so we move on and learn from it.

Barnsley are turning up to the Bridge tomorrow night and it gives the team an immediate opportunity to get the defeat out of their systems. It is the first of four games that unlike Liverpool, should give the group a chance to get fully match fit, understand what each other’s strengths are and get many more players a bit of much-needed match time. Tammy Abraham will be chomping at the proverbial bit, as will the likes of Callum Hudson Odoi and Olivier Giroud. It is a great opportunity to try a few different systems too.

Chatting on Matchday Live on the 5th Stand app before the game on Sunday, the idea came up of a system that had Giroud or Tammy up top with Kai Havertz and Timo Werner out in the wide attacking areas. With each of them in top shape that would be a very dangerous but also well-balanced-looking front line. That is before you have a fit-again Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic. I will not be surprised if that combination gets an outing from the boss sooner or later, probably sooner.
 

What it all tells you is that the system, and the personnel for that preferred system, hasn’t come close to being settled yet. The upside of that is that you get every single player vying and battling for places because they are all up for grabs. This is often healthy for the manager as there is little need to ‘gee’ the players up pre match. They all want that first-team shirt and to be honest, there are not that many who can say their position absolutely belongs to them right at this moment. It is another reason why it still has a whiff of pre-season about some of the games.

It is hard to keep remembering the players are still actually in a time that should still be pre-season training. Some cruise back into top form almost effortlessly but others take some time to get that power, pace, balance and touch just perfect. It always used to be said that it took most players four or five games to get back to their peak, and that was when they had a full pre-season behind them!

It is almost impossible to tell which players will fly out of the traps. I used to feel fantastic from day one, but then I had sneakily always done a pre, pre-season of running in the Scottish mountains. So, I was always a few weeks ahead of the game. That is much harder to do now with so many summer tournaments, longer seasons and of course, this season the effect Covid-19 has had on the football calendar. Even so, some seem to cruise into the campaign anyway.
 

I couldn’t spot any particular signs N’Golo Kante looked any less than his usual super-human self, so maybe it is a height and weight thing, maybe us little guys have it easier? I am not so sure, remember the seasons when the peerless Eden Hazard came back in slightly less than explosive svelte shape.

Read: The Debrief - Busy Kante close to his best

I have actually spotted this around the Premier League already this season. I have been to two games other than Chelsea, and both had players who looked to me like they needed a pair of shorts that were a size or two bigger than they were using last season! That is what happens when you do not get a full pre-season under your slightly expanded belt.

Right at this moment, particularly after the Liverpool game, there are many calling it a wake-up call for Chelsea, but I think that is a bit harsh. New players either not having time to bed in, or not available yet to the manager, will change everything when they are eventually in mid-season form.

Barnsley will give the players some more much-needed game time and by the time we have played them, Palace and Southampton, the new Chelsea should be just about ready. In the meantime, it is about battling for wins and I am convinced we have enough quality and sprit to do just that.
 

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