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Pat Nevin: Why Thiago Silva is so happy and Hakim Ziyech so vital

With time now to take stock as the international break begins, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin assesses whether this pause in the hectic club schedule has come at a good time, the clear signs there is belief in the camp, and which players Thomas Tuchel is focusing his coaching skills upon…


And breathe… I reckon everyone at the club needs a bit of a rest after the manic run of games the men’s first team have just dealt with. Of course, not many will get total respite with the international fixtures keeping them on their toes, well on their feet anyway. Fortunately, for most of the Chelsea lads there have been a few rests along the road. Even the non-stop Mason Mount has had the odd day off in the last few weeks, even if one of them was due to suspension.

England should be delighted as he and most of the Chelsea players do not look as weary as many others across the Premier League. Gareth Southgate will know that when he picks Ben Chilwell and Reece James over the next couple of weeks, he can be confident they like Mason will be buzzing with energy as well as confidence.

I reckon buzzing is a good description of the team at the moment. It is hard to think of a better word when you watch Mason, Jorginho and Thiago Silva behaving the way they did during the second leg of the Atletico Madrid tie. As everyone has noted, that sort of involvement and excitement when you aren’t even on the bench speaks volumes for the atmosphere in the camp.

There have been other moments too. I watched Olivier Giroud warming up for that same game, smiling, laughing and joking with everyone even though he wasn’t in the starting line-up. I am sure he wanted to being the starting 11, and maybe even expected to be. I know I expected him to start, but even so there he was benched before the most important game of the season, still looking happy, positive and keeping his team-mates’ spirits up as well as his own.

These guys all seem to get it, we had to reach this point and still be in the hunt for as many of our goals as possible and they have done precisely that.

'I suspect our players are fine but I reckon the break could be just what Tuchel needs more than anything else. '

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

.The top four is within our control, and there are the latter stages of two major knockout competitions to look forward to. There is a decent argument to say that any club in England, apart from Man City, would swap places with us right at this moment. Leicester City and Manchester United may be above Chelsea in the league, but they do not have a shot at glory in the biggest European competition like we do. It is a fantastic position to be in, not that it will be an easy progression in either cup competition.

This is why those images of Mason, Thiago Silva and Jorginho had such resonance. They gave away the story that these guys really believe there is a good chance this season could still be turned into something extra special.

For Thiago Silva in particular, it must have felt particularly glorious when he realised we had finally overcome Atleti. There are only so many seasons left for him at the very top level and having got injured there must have been a seed of doubt planted in the back of his mind - ‘Have I already taken part in in my final Champions League game?’

In those glorious moments when we put the tie to bed, the joy and relief would have been palpable. He is close to fitness, there is a handy international break to ensure he doesn’t miss any more Chelsea games for a few weeks while he recovers and when he does get back, he will be as fresh as he possibly could be after his enforced break.

There have been a few injuries or illness of late, especially in that central defensive area, but having shipped the grand total of two goals in nearly 22 hours of football under Thomas Tuchel, I think we can safely say the problem has been managed pretty well. So that is another concern that has been dealt with.

The other week I was mentioning here that TT had little projects, such as getting Marcos Alonso back as an integral part of the group, increasing the game time and the confidence of Andreas Christensen and also getting the best out of Kai Havertz, among others. The latest player to have been given the Tuchel treatment seems to be Hakim Ziyech, the player I want to be focused on next.

I think Hakim will be vital to us, as he has a different creative skill set than anyone else at the club. In the short and longer term we will need his type of imagination if we are going to win trophies, so his recent two goals in two games couldn’t have come at a better time.

For Hakim, maybe this Premier League mini break isn’t happening at the right moment and there is an argument it isn’t happening at the perfect time for Chelsea generally. The team is on a roll right now and it also will give one or two other players at other teams a chance of a little breather too. I am not sure about that argument. Most of our real rivals are packed full of international players just like we are, they might not get any bigger lift than us.

I suspect our players are fine but I reckon it could be just what Tuchel needs more than anything else. It has been a whirlwind of a time at the club for him, and even though he has dealt with it brilliantly, surely there will be a benefit to having a little more time to think in the widest sense about what he has to do next.

He has had 14 games in 53 days, which is a game every three or four days without let up. That means a lot of time prepping and recovering and then planning again for the next match, which is always imminent. While doing that he has been planning, strategising and talking with specific players about their roles, to great effect. There are only 24 hours in every day and sleep is kind of important, so there is no chance he will have had the time to do every single thing he has wanted with the individual players.

This could be a real opportunity and considering the effect he has had on certain individuals already, when he gets some quality time with everyone, there could still be more benefits to accrue.

I reckon he has had a few ‘projects’ already and yes I suspected that Ziyech was going to be the next and that looks to have been the case. How about Billy Gilmour, can he be next on the list after Hakim? Actually, following Billy’s start against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, he has probably begun that work already. I admit to being very happy about that.

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