There was a point before half-time in the Man City game when Chelsea fans just wanted to get away. We wanted any excuse to go, maybe have a little walk somewhere, just to get a cup of tea from the kitchen or indeed possibly something stronger. It was torture being a Blues fan and in hindsight, maybe there are a few things that could have been done differently. In the moment however, Frank didn’t have hindsight, he needed to react to the situations in real time, so what was his thought process?
First of all, the forward line of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic is a unit people have wanted to see play together for a while. On the day Hakim was fighting to get to match speed having been out with injury, Timo has been struggling with a dip in form and of course they haven’t worked with each other in a match situation much before, so a perfect understanding will take time. As a front line however, they all have quality and for those first 10 minutes, things seemed to be going to plan.
I thought beforehand the team looked strong and yes it would have looked just as strong with either Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud up top, but that doesn’t explain what happened next.
Clearly Pep’s tactics worked for his team, with the peerless Kevin De Bruyne ghosting away from his false ‘centre-forward’ position to find space at will. It was however more than that. I have been to see City a few times this season and the 20-minute period after Ilkay Gundogan opened the scoring is by a distance the best they have played for a long, long time. Maybe after that opener, Frank could have gone safe and changed from 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, we had the players on the pitch to do it. The thing is, he would have wanted to get control back and get on the front foot, so being negative at that moment would have been alien to his outlook.
Why shouldn’t we press and go for the equaliser, that is the Chelsea way, especially at Stamford Bridge under Frank Lampard. Maybe the opposition was just having a short purple patch in the middle of the half? De Bruyne’s genius led to the second and then we had a real dilemma. Do you shut up shop while under the cosh or go all out to get a goal back before half-time and know you are still in the game. We went with the latter and that commitment followed by a rare error by N’Golo led to the third.
At this point you are in the realms of psychology. City have no pressure, are playing with total freedom and every single player wants the ball. It is a pleasure to play in those circumstances and what’s more, it is easy. Chelsea were in precisely the opposite universe. The pain the fans were feeling would have been felt at that point by the players too. The only positive is that we got to the break and then managed to adapt it a bit in the second half. It just goes to show that in the top league against the very top teams, things can get away from you very quickly indeed.
I will be interested to see if Frank changes the system for the next league outing. He might not though when we visit Fulham because they are a very different proposition from a Manchester City side on fire. We always judge managers by what they do when things are going well. The real test of their abilities comes during the tough times.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options available, not only in systems but in personnel. I mentioned how quickly things can change in football. Well imagine you are Callum Hudson-Odoi or Billy Gilmour. Both youngsters would have been getting a bit frustrated until recently. The team was flying, there were a whole bunch of top internationals between each of them and a first-team start. There were even chats about Billy going out on loan, well there were on social and mainstream media anyway.
Suddenly both players look like they could be on the cusp of getting a decent run in the team. Certainly, Callum sparkled when he came on against Arsenal, he did well in the Villa game and of course scored late on when he was let loose against Manchester City.
For Billy, the impressive list of Kovacic, Kante, Mount and Jorginho seemed well ahead of him, but after the run we have had and his assured performance once he got into the pace of the game against City, he must have moved right up the pecking order.
Football changes fast and you have to be ready to take advantage of these changes, whether you are a manager, a team or a player. Morecambe in the FA Cup may give us a bit of breathing space and certainly a chance to try out a few ideas, but even then we can’t be too careful. Their manager Derek Adams is good tactically. I have followed his career with great interest and with a bit of luck and the right timing he could have been managing at a higher level by now.
A word about one of our own great managers. We lost Tommy Docherty last week and for those who were not fortunate to get the chance to meet him in person, he was one of my favourite people who has ever walked this earth.
I met him first while I was at Chelsea and we did a TV show together called ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’ By the end of that dinner we were friends, and friends for life. He had incredible stories, fantastic wit and a self-deprecating line in everything he talked about. For a man who had managed Chelsea, Manchester United and Scotland among others as well as playing for the Blues and his country and being captain too, he never wanted to live in the past, he always loved and took great joy in the present.
Within a few months of meeting ‘The Doc’ I had introduced him to my older brother in Hong Kong, another Tommy. Within weeks he was out there doing after dinner speeches for the football-loving fraternity of ex-pats organised by my brother. He went down a storm every time. The two Tommys became great friends.
I introduced Tommy to my dad. A few weeks later I phoned home to Glasgow to see if he was coming down for the next Chelsea game. My mum explained that I should ring back later as Tommy Docherty had called and they went out for a drink and a chat in Glasgow. From then on The Doc called in on my dad almost every time he was back up in his old town.
I then introduced him to my other brother Michael and within the hour you would have thought they were long-lost twin brothers, they got on incredibly well. Tommy stayed close to my family for the next 35 years. Maybe he was like that with every family he met, I don’t know, but after we heard the sad news we immediately got in touch with each other.
We all agreed that it didn’t matter the size of the room, the number of people or indeed how well you knew him, life always felt better, funnier and more real when you were in Tommy Docherty’s company. He loved life so much and not just his own, he felt that way about everyone else’s around him too. He shared his joy of life as only a truly kind person can, and didn’t care what anyone else thought about him.
Carefree wherever you may be Tommy. There will never be another like you.