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Pat Nevin: Where we would expect to be

The second-half showing against Palace followed what Chelsea legend Pat Nevin believes were certain half-time instructions by Frank Lampard. He explains that in this week’s column plus why there are benefits in this current international break…


Last week I had a little pop at a group of people who had gone way beyond rude about some of the team and the staff at half-time in the West Brom game.
In the two-and-a-half games since those frustrated outbursts, there have been eight goals scored and one conceded, annoyingly that one was against Spurs in the Cup. So not a bad reaction from the team, but then again you can make statistics say almost anything you like, if you twist them in the right way.

It does however show you that things can change quickly in football, often when you least expect it, just as Manchester United and Liverpool discovered this week after what happened to them.

When playing with the right tempo we can certainly score enough goals, but so can others. When off the pace at all in the Premier League things can go very badly very quickly, whoever you are. We had a surreal 45 minutes against West Brom but Liverpool and United managed to allow their nightmares to last the entire 90!

I am not even sure it was what you would call a great performance by us against Crystal Palace at the weekend, especially in the first half, even though there was a period then when we had 82 per cent of the possession. Does that sound odd, having that much possession and arguably still not being great? I reckon it does, but in these days when some teams allow you to have the ball and don’t pressure you until you get to the last third, from one angle it looks like domination, but in reality it is just as much about a lack of penetration from the attacking side.
 

This is definitely something Frank Lampard talked to the team about at half-time on Saturday. In the second half the energy was upped considerably, the ball moved more quickly and there was more of a willingness to take opportunities to break the defensive lines. It was noticeable the first time Callum Hudson-Odoi tried to get beyond his marker, get to the byline and get a ball into the box, we eventually scored from the move. If you are an attack-minded wide player, you really want to get good balls into the box and on the two occasions he did, both during the second half, they really counted.

This must be kept in context. Cesar Azpilicueta had the best crossing stats with three, not a huge number either. I think I can see now why Tammy Abraham was cutting such a frustrated figure when he tried to muscle in for the second penalty, he was getting very little to attack as a striker.

It has to be underlined that Palace are not an easy team to get through. Few in the Premier League are easy to score against most weeks but since Roy Hodgson really got his feet under the managerial desk at Selhurst Park in late September 2017, no one has inflicted a bigger defeat on them than 4-0.

Maybe this is the biggest positive of all. Without all guns blazing, with all four goals being scored by players considered more defensive-minded (though I reckon Jorginho and Ben Chilwell would argue with that and have a good case) we still romped home with a four-goal haul.

In reality we are still waiting for the expected explosion of goals from the newer players. Obviously Kai Havertz (three), Ben Chilwell (one) and Timo Werner (one) are each already off the mark, but it still feels like Timo and Kai are just bubbling under ready to explode onto the scene.

For once I think the Chelsea staff might be absolutely delighted to see many of these players leave on international duty, but why? I reckon the likes of Kai and Timo both need as many games as possible to get themselves not only up to their own levels of mid-season match fitness, but higher still to the level expected week in and week out in the Premier League. Unless they are injured on international duty, they will all come back in better condition than when they left, especially if they can get a full game or two under their belts for their own countries.

In the meantime Frank and his team will have a chance to sit back briefly and see where they are just now. In the league, apart from the first 45 minutes against West Brom, we are probably where we would expect to, if not hope to be. Liverpool was always going to be tough one and until the weekend they had come out of the blocks very well this season. It really is just those two points lost in the Midlands that have put a dampener on things to some degree.

I still put that down to rustiness but by the time Southampton rock up to the Bridge in a couple of weeks that will no longer be an excuse. There is the hope the attacking three of Pulisic, Werner and Havertz will get a real chance to finally play together, possibly behind either Tammy or Olivier Giroud. They were on the field together at the end of the Palace game but there wasn’t enough time to see how well it would really work. I have a suspicion it is something Frank will be keen to try and also give it a little time to gel over a few games.

Normally he would have done this in pre-season, but in that there wasn’t one and none of them were fully fit at the time anyway, it was impossible. He will not be the only manager tinkering with things as the season goes on, just look at some of the weird results Man City, Man United, Spurs and even Leicester have had. They haven’t got their sides nailed down either for a variety of reasons, hence the unpredictability. Everton under Carlo Ancelotti fell on a perfect system right away, but that is unusual.

Frank will have time to think about his favoured line-up while the place is a bit quieter. By the time we start again it will feel like the real season is underway, not because we didn’t approach it correctly at the start, but because the pandemic affected the preparation. It is time to take off. Watch out Southampton.

 

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