Columnist

Pat Nevin: Why this month is vital and where Chelsea are better equipped than big rivals

With the Blues now putting a run together in the Premier League, Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin is full of anticipation for the challenges to come, especially with one of our players stretching the opposition in a particular and important way…


Things are beginning to stir again at Chelsea with those 10 points from the last 12 available
, bringing us right back into contention for a top-four finish. Still no opponent has managed to score against a Thomas Tuchel Chelsea team yet, although we did manage it ourselves – ouch!

A look at the top five right now has an awfully familiar feel about it with Man City, Man Utd, Leicester and Liverpool alongside us in the top spots. It looks familiar because those are the only clubs that have won Premier League titles in the past 15 seasons.

Even so, it is still an odd season and that could change, and almost certainly will, over the next few weeks and months. The fact there are still more away wins than home wins this season in the entirety of the Premier League tells you this is still weird. We all watched Leicester City looking brilliant against us recently, but I was at their game against Wolves at the weekend and they looked much more like a decidedly mid-table outfit. As an old mate used to say, rather floridly, ‘One minute you’re a peacock then next you’re a feather duster.’

That is what to keep in mind at the moment, everything can change almost in an instant. Liverpool are the current feather dusters after an awful run at home, topped off by a hammering by Man City at the weekend, but they are perfectly capable of looking excellent at any moment. Just look at their performances against Spurs and West Ham within the last fortnight.

This goes for players too and no one more so than Timo Werner. Obviously, the elephant in the room is the goal drought and although most watchers feel it is just a matter of time before things change there, just as many are realising what else Timo has given us recently. The work-rate has never been in question regarding the German, but it is becoming clearer that the effect he has on our play is making an ever-increasing difference at important moments.

His willingness and ability to make lightning runs beyond defences led to both our goals up at Sheffield, but this isn’t new of course. There was the penalty won against Spurs to help deliver those three points and just 11 days before that he was setting up Tammy for his first goal against Luton Town.

I will admit it was a slight surprise to me when I discovered he has the most league assists of anyone at the club this season, and I suspect that doesn’t include those penalties he has won (which I would definitely count as assists).

There certainly seems to be a more relaxed look about him over the past few games, but then he will understand he is having that positive impact, even if he isn’t scoring as regularly as he would like right at this moment.

Years ago, there was a team-mate later in my career, after my Chelsea and Everton days, who reminds me a bit of what Timo is doing at the moment. Up front alongside John Aldridge (who wasn’t a bad scorer!) at Tranmere Rovers was Chrissy Malkin, who was forever using his blistering pace and willingness to go long, even if he would admit himself that on a one-on-one v the keeper, he was considerably less likely to score than Aldo or I.

'I honestly believe these games crammed together give us a little advantage'

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

What that running led to was two important things. It gave us creative players in the team someone to pick out with a through ball. Just as importantly he stretched the game and gave us space to get on the ball in the first place. It helped get us to within a game of reaching the Premier League, in three consecutive seasons!

That is exactly what Timo is doing for us just now. It doesn’t show up in the bald stats that many people are slaves to, but there is no doubt it helps the likes of Mason Mount getting space in that crucial area between the opposition’s midfield and their defence.

Timo described himself as playing the ‘left number 10’ role the other day, but that is just the staring position. His non-stop energy and keenness to get behind defences from there makes him a very different type of ‘10’ than the classic through-ball David Silva-esque creative sort. The adaptability he has shown, as has the manager, seems to be key to his growing positive effect.

To be fair, the Sheffield United match wasn’t the prettiest or easiest game, but that is the way the Blades make the game and there is nothing wrong with that, especially when they are battling for their Premier League survival. The upcoming matches will however ask a totally different bunch of questions and there will be lots of them. The seven games in February are a real test, but I honestly believe these games crammed together give us a little advantage over just about every other side in the league.

It is clear that Liverpool’s lack of squad depth has finally come back to haunt them, and to be fair it has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, but it is clearly affecting them negatively right now. It also looks likely to continue to trip them up with the European fixtures about to hit too.

Leicester are not dissimilar in that they look a much-lesser side the moment Jamie Vardy gets injured and of course Spurs were in the same boat when Harry Kane was unavailable for them.

I’m not sure Chelsea are in the same position because the squad is so deep and the standard doesn’t dip hugely, or indeed at all, when the manager must change three, four, five or even six players! We also do not have one single pivotal player who everything revolves around, and that is a big positive in these circumstances.

February will be vital. By the time we meet Manchester United on the 28th, if Thomas Tuchel has managed to keep the unbeaten run going until then, the season will suddenly look totally different. The latter stages of the FA Cup could be in our sights, the Champions League last eight will beckon and United may well be arriving at the Bridge considering us real challengers for their place in the top four.

It is busy alright, but it is also the start of the business end of the season. I for one can’t wait.

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