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Pat Nevin: Why this is when the season really starts

With the Blues in action every weekend and midweek until the next pause for international football, Chelsea great Pat Nevin is prepared for the meaty part of the 2021/22 campaign to begin, and is already looking forward to our upcoming home fixtures against Aston Villa and Zenit St Petersburg...

First you get the pre-season games, then you get the early league encounters, then it’s an abrupt stop again. There have been important games already, but it still feels to me like this coming weekend is when we are finally into the real body of the season. It has been a very good start with seven points out of nine, two of those games away from home, and the dropped points being totally understandable in the 10-man circumstances at Anfield.

We needed to get through this period unscathed and we pretty much managed that. Players have been coming back in dribs and drabs after the summer exertions in various competitions which didn’t help continuity, so it hasn’t been easy to keep things running totally smoothly in the camp.

'This is the start of what could be the most important season in the history of women’s football.'

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

There is also the extended international ‘break’ which we are right in the middle of, and has also put the brakes on team planning for a fortnight - although it doesn’t feel much like a ‘break’ for the players when they are travelling around the continent playing a whole bunch of games. Getting these internationals done and dusted is another signal that the real season has got underway.

On top of that, it is only now that the new signings will finally be getting the chance to really settle in. At last, Romelu Lukaku can be re-welcomed by the home support, and Saul Niguez can be introduced to his new fans too. They will both be desperate for some sort of normality surrounding themselves and to get into a sensible work routine.

Moving house, family, club, and basically your entire life, is never simple, even if you are well paid. Romelu has been travelling just about solidly since deciding to come back to the club, though happily it doesn’t appear to have affected his goalscoring touch. He scored one against Arsenal of course and two more for his country against Estonia. (Though I should point out that this may not be too big a deal, I once scored a brace against Estonia for Scotland, so it can’t be that hard!)

Against Czech Republic he was at it again though, basically showing that he was unstoppable, finishing after a superb through ball to notch his 67th for Belgium!

There is another rarely mentioned factor at play for some of the players trying to get their heads right for the upcoming season. The transfer window has closed, and everyone finally knows where they will actually be for the next five or six months. Before that, there will have been a few nagging doubts.

There is always a slight tension in the air during the last few days of the transfer window, and the shock sales start going through. Quite a few players secretly and understandably feel a little insecure every August as it builds. If a huge name becomes available to buy, as a whole bunch did during this transfer window, almost all bets are off. You could suddenly find your situation changing from being one of the main men at your club to becoming a transfer makeweight. It can be that brutal.

Now that the likes of Messi and Ronaldo have moved and Mbappe and Kane have stayed put, everyone knows where they are and can get back to concentrating on getting into fighting mode for a place in the team.

Obviously we have an incredible number of players, and it is going to be some battle for places, but there should be chances for game time for a lot of them. The game frequency jumps now, with the Champions League opener against Zenit St Petersburg only a week away, so there will be the usual rotations by the manager from here on in.

It is also worth underlining here that it is the start of the season for the women’s team, and the start of what could be the most important season in the history of women’s football. I covered the World Cup in 2019 in France and it felt like the game was about to take off like the proverbial rocket. I hoped that the entire sport wouldn’t ‘drop the ball’ after such an incredible competition, one that got far more interest than any similar woman’s football gathering before. Then the pandemic happened. It was tough for men’s elite football to cope with Covid and all its implications, but it was an even more bitter pill to swallow for the women.

This season, with the WSL looking stronger than ever, there is a chance for it to go stratospheric. Man City were superb against Everton and Man United started with a win too. Chelsea Women had a tough and thrilling game, eventually losing 3-2 away at Arsenal, but hopefully this is a league that will have enough ups and downs to keep the fans interested to the last game, whoever wins it.

For the men, Aston Villa await at the weekend and three days later the Bridge will be bulging again for a Champions League night. Did we really take those nights for granted for so long? We will relish every minute this time and these two ties are more interesting than they might first seem to the untrained eye, which often includes mine!

Aston Villa have two strikers in Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins who are well capable of scoring hatfuls of goals in the Premier League. They must be watched. This is a match laced with danger from a fearless side with a manager who will turn up with little to lose, and a growing belief in his newly-refurbished team, even if they don’t have Jack Grealish to call on.

Before we can fully recover, the Russians are coming, with a liberal sprinkling of talented Brazilians in their side, too. Zenit’s Artem Dzyuba will be hard to miss, not only because of his huge 6 ft 6in frame up front but for his impressive use of those physical attributes. The battle between him and Toni Rudiger among others will be worth the ticket price alone. It is clearly time to get the game heads on and get ready for the ride. I reckon our lads are ready. We are about to find out.

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