Pat Nevin: Keeping pressure on at the top

With smiles back on Chelsea faces thanks to victory in our final game before Christmas, former Blue Pat Nevin looks back at that London derby, ahead to the next one, and focuses more widely on a league campaign the like of which we have not seen for a long time…


Have you been tempted to look at the Premier League table lately? I’ll be honest and admit that I tried to leave it or just glance at it after our losses against Everton and Wolves. Following Monday night’s win against West Ham I was all over it again, studying it as closely as the latest Covid-19 tier system, trying to see where we really are and I guess most fans are the same.

It is impossible not to do this, but I am wondering just how helpful it really is to Chelsea fans or indeed most other fans. In recent weeks the top four has included Manchester United, Spurs, Leicester, Southampton, West Ham, Everton, Liverpool, and Man City obviously are on the edge too. It is clearly unhelpful to take too much stock in the positions right now because it is so fluid. Man Utd were as low as 14th place in November but by last week they were briefly up to second. We were top of the pile on 5 November, we were then eighth exactly two weeks later.

Look at the table closely today, Villa are in ninth, but if you assume, it might be a bit of a stretch I admit, they win their two games in hand, they will go second. This is not the time to get uptight by the odd result, there hasn’t been a league campaign like this for a very long time. We have to get used to the rollercoaster and stay focused. More importantly, we have to hold tight and not get too spooked by the twists and turns, making sure we are still there at the end. I think we should get Don’t Panic printed in big friendly letters on the front of the matchday programme, which of course the fans upsettingly cannot get on the day, following the latest virus spike, but you can of course still buy.

This is what Frank Lampard has learned very quickly, the need for calm in weird times, but there are some classic old adages that might still be proved true. Sir Alex Ferguson used to say a few things about the festive period. The first was that you cannot win the league at this time, but you can definitely lose it. So, by the time we face City on 3 January, we want to be securely in the chasing pack just as we are right now.

The other related concept was that the wheat is usually sorted from the chaff after these games. Post the festive games, that is when a team going on a run can leave the pack behind. Well, I have had a quick look at our January fixtures after Man City and we have a great chance to go on another run then.  

'Each time I watch him I see something slightly different. What was noticeable was that when anything went wrong for him his efforts to rectify it were immediate.'

photo of Pat Nevin on one of the Chelsea team versus West Ham Pat Nevin on one of the Chelsea team versus West Ham


This sounds all very upbeat, after just one win, but someone has to put Liverpool under pressure and I really believe there a few that can do it this season, and Chelsea are comfortably in that group.

Jurgen Klopp’s men won 7-0 at the weekend, scoring some amazing goals at Palace and are now four points clear. Surely they are clear favourites to sprint away now, just as they have before?

I wouldn’t bet on that, it is much closer than you think. Liverpool played Spurs before Palace and got a last-minute winner. Had Harry Kane got a last-minute winner instead, those two would be level on points right now. That is how tight it is in reality.

For the Blues, against West Ham it was a pivotal moment. The Hammers have had a great run lately, their power has been undoing some good sides and of course they were our bogey team last season, but the 3-0 victory was a real statement in the end. It was far from easy with a few hairy moments, but by the end we were back in control and once again Frank made a few big calls that paid off. He could have gone for Olivier Giroud or indeed Timo Werner up top but he decided that Tammy Abraham was the one needed for this crucial one.  

Tammy got a brace of course to relieve the pressure on the night, but an even bigger call was to leave him on as late as he did. The goals after 78 and 80 minutes showed a steely nerve from the manager. The temptation to twist must have been powerful but he decided to stick up front and he got his reward. Tammy had been battling well, giving at least as good as he got against a famously powerful back line of Fabian Balbuena and Angelo Ogbonna, with Declan Rice dropping back to help them regularly. Even so, Tammy looked lively and just as confident as the game wore on and never slowed down.

There were other big decisions for this game, but because of the effect three defeats in a row might have had, they were all magnified. Maybe the other one that will have delighted Frank most was Mason Mount, who was a bundle of energy and willingness throughout. Each time I watch him I see something slightly different. What was noticeable was that when anything went wrong for him his efforts to rectify it were immediate. He never seems to go into his shell, he keeps showing, keeps taking chances, keeps wanting the ball and keeps wanting to do positive things with it. That is real bravery on a football field.  

He was heavily involved in all three goals, taking the corner for the first, driving forward for the second before giving the ball to Timo Werner who made the assist. I think you could also give Mason the assist for the third, as it was his cross that was finally hammered home by Tammy after Christian Pulisic challenged Lukasz Fabianski on the line. It was the lift everyone needed and the team will be back on a high.

Arsenal are on the horizon and if ever a team was not on a high and needed a win, it is the Gunners right now. As I mentioned at the top there are quite a few teams that can chase Liverpool all the way this season, and I think even the most fervent Arsenal fan would accept his team aren’t one of them. That will not stop them fighting tooth and nail to get the points on Boxing Day. They will not be helped by the extra game in the Carabao Cup against Manchester City last night, that will have tired at least some of the first team players while the Chelsea players were all having a much-needed rest.

We are coming to the end of what is a horrible year that has been no joke for anyone, but the Arsenal fans will feel a Chelsea win in this one will just about top it off. Some might even start using the ‘R’ word, but I reckon they are still way too good to go down. In this mad season and extraordinary league campaign however, there is no doubt that if we do win, we will be looking ahead and they will be looking nervously down.

Even so, I would like to say Happy Christmas to all football fans and particularly you Chelsea fans. Stay safe and hopefully everything we want happens long before next Christmas. Who would have thought that one day the only thing we would all want for the special time that is Christmas is normality?
 

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