Columnist

Pat Nevin explains who can replace suspended Mount and reveals striker preference for Chelsea vs Atletico

Uncertainty remains for Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin when it comes to analysing Saturday’s draw at Elland Road, but he has more clarity of thought looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting with Atletico Madrid, who will fill in for the suspended Mason Mount and Jorginho, and why Olivier Giroud must start in attack…


Sometimes you just don’t know whether to laugh or cry, or indeed to have a champagne celebration or to drown your sorrows. The unbeaten run continues, but was it two points dropped at Elland Road, or one point gained? I must admit to being confused.

Of course we want to score and win games, but yet another clean sheet away from home against a side who are famously dangerous and utterly unpredictable left a few of us scratching our heads trying to figure out what it all meant.

To befuddle us even further, the three teams directly below us at the weekend - Spurs, Everton and West Ham - all lost. So there is a perfectly good argument that it was a point gained in the chase for the top four, rather than two dropped after all. But wait a minute, we should be looking up not down, shouldn’t we? So Man Utd and Leicester’s wins might have us feeling glum again. The fact that it was Leeds, makes it doubly frustrating as there is some history there, even if it is ancient history.

We will only really know the importance of that point at the end of the season, but as of right now a run of wins is essential if we are going to finish in the top four. I reckon the next five league games could yield between 12 and 15 points if we continue to play the way we have been, and that, I am sure, would put us firmly in the Champions League driving seat for next season.

Actually, my previous point isn’t totally right, as a win tomorrow isn’t absolutely essential. A draw would obviously do the trick. However, I don’t think many of us want the stress of going into the last five minutes against a top European side on the edge of our seats again, knowing a piece of individual brilliance, an unlucky deflection, or a questionable decision could scupper our chances of a quarter-final place in the Champions League.

The uncertainty of Saturday’s result might just spill over into tomorrow’s game when considering how to approach it. Is it worth really going all out for it early on, to get that second goal and give Atletico Madrid the proverbial mountain to climb? With such a fantastic defensive record under Thomas Tuchel, he might be reticent about changing anything, specifically in terms of the 3-4-3 shape that has been so impenetrable to opposition forwards.

Having said that, giving the upper hand to the visitors might not be the best policy either, even if it isn’t Diego Simeone’s renowned style to go gung ho away from home. It isn’t even his style at home when you consider the 6-3-1 formation they seemed to adopt most of the time in the first leg against us.

Before the game, I will be just as interested in the opposition and how they line up as I am in Chelsea. In his short time in charge at the Bridge, Thomas Tuchel has already faced the tactical brilliance of Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Marcelo Bielsa, and now he has Diego Simeone for a second time. It has been like a who’s who of world-class coaches, with Pep Guardiola coming along soon enough to make up the set.

The point is that for all our ability to stay unbeaten, these have not been easy teams to score goals against or easy coaches to outthink. Tomorrow cannot fail to intrigue, even if there are very few goals likely from either side.

As for our starting line-up, that is becoming the biggest imponderable of all. Mason Mount being unavailable is a blow, but it has to be kept in context. There are three or four at least that can play in that second number 10 position - and they aren’t bad!

Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, along with Timo Werner can each drop in there. Christian Pulisic loves that position, while there is little doubt that it is Kai Havertz’s favourite starting berth. Even N’Golo Kante could play there, though he will almost certainly be needed further back this time with Jorginho unavailable too. I will not be surprised if one day soon Reece James is asked to go into the deeper central role and that could free N’Golo to step forward to close down high up the field.

So it is still a long way from worrying about who is missing, as opposed to what is the best XI to pick from those available. For all the speculation, it will be up front where most of the thinking will have been done. It will be very hard if not impossible for Thomas Tuchel to ignore the presence of Olivier Giroud, considering there are a multitude of things stacking up in the Frenchman’s favour.

He has been well rested after warming the bench for the last three games. At 34 he is far from being on his last legs, but you would expect him to be as fresh as anyone having had that little mini-break.

He also has incredible experience at this level and every single manager will tell you that in the Champions League, in the knockout stages, experience is crucial. At this point you not only have to be good, you have to be very clever and know the ropes. He does.

There is also the fact that if he is up front it gives more options behind him. Havertz and maybe Werner in particular are made for a breaking game when the opposition might have to come on to you at some point. Either or both of those two behind Olivier will pose a serious threat.

There is also the small matter of Giroud absolutely loving this competition. There was his last-minute winner v Rennes, then there was the stunning four-goal haul against another Spanish club, Sevilla, even before his stunning overhead kick in the first leg against Atletico Madrid.

I reckon I would like to see Olivier Giroud on the pitch tomorrow, almost as much as Atleti would like to see him sat on the sidelines.

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