Pat Nevin: Do even Chelsea centre-backs now feel under pressure to score?

Chelsea legend Pat Nevin decides whether we should worry about dropped points at the weekend, while noticing who was trying hard to find the net against Burnley…


I can rarely remember feeling quite so relaxed at such a disappointing result in a Chelsea match. As the dust settled at the end of the game against Burnley, we sat with one solitary point, and we almost lost that in the dying moments. With Man City having won against man United, the immediate reaction was we had lost a great opportunity and that is true, but that feeling didn’t last long for me.

After sitting back and considering for a few moments, it was obvious there was very little wrong with the performance. There was plenty of pace and skill in the game and most of it came from Chelsea. There had been 70 per cent possession, but it had often been good possession, played at pace and leading to very good opportunities.

On most other days, that sort of performance leads to a comfortable win, but football can be like that, unfair. There have been many times when having that amount of the ball is a frustration because it’s not dangerous, but this time the play was certainly worthy of more goals.

Without going down that well-trodden road of using stats to make excuses, the 14 corners to two was another perfectly good illustration of the balance of the game along with the 25 to five shots at goal statistic.

The argument back would be that we have only scored two goals in the past two games, but once again at Malmo, there was that total domination of possession (73 per cent) and a 22-4 shots-on-goal advantage. There is very little you can do to improve on that, other than being a bit luckier in front of goal.

It was no wonder Thomas Tuchel didn’t sound too concerned afterwards on Saturday, delivering a delightfully ironic reaction himself. I don’t think he will be minded to change everything after ‘only’ getting a point against an infamously tough team that carried more luck than a double lottery winner.

Over the years many players will have heard the phrase in these situations that is often used by the boss at the end - ‘play like that every week and you will win most of the time.’ And he is correct.

In my other job, covering the rest of the Premier League with the BBC and others, I have to at least try to be dispassionate in my outlook. The idea is to look at every team and see them not just through my own eyes but the eyes of their supporters. The thing I regularly look for is fragility and it is there in every side to a greater or lesser degree.

Liverpool may have gone on a fabulous winning run that came to end against Davie Moyes’ West Ham, but there were very clear fragilities in their defence, particularly during the second half. Any Red will tell you that without Van Dijk in the backline they would have real problems stopping goal-scoring chances. Even with him they shipped three at the weekend and there is a good argument one of their goals shouldn’t have stood as Mo Salah clearly wasn’t touched when the free-kick was awarded that led to their first.

Manchester United’s frailties hardly need discussing, they are everywhere one week even if they disappear the next. What about Man City? Well even they have some concerns, notably about the lack of a striker that will be trusted to get them out of a hole when things are going against them, as happened recently against Crystal Palace.

'I loved the moment after the game against Newcastle when Ben Chilwell said he was disappointed not to score after notching in three Premier League games in a row'

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

Every team seems to have some elements of brittleness, but Chelsea have very few if any, other than the same as City, i.e. a 20 goal-a-season striker. But then we have Romelu Lukaku to come back, who is very likely to be that man.

It is difficult to watch your own team with dispassionate eyes, or even through the opposite lenses of rose-tinted spectacles, but right now, standing back it feels like we are in a very good place indeed and not because we are sitting at the top of the league. So yes, it was a pain not getting those three points we deserved, but it isn’t time to panic, or worry, or even begin to feel concerned.

I reckon the players will have that confidence too. You know when you have played well as an individual and as a group. The real pressure is still encapsulated in one question if you are a Chelsea player right now. ‘Have I done well enough this week to get a game next time?’

This is the pressure you must be able to cope with. Every player at every team should feel the same but elsewhere you can have a quiet game or two and still be confident of being in the starting 11. That is not the case at Stamford Bridge and it is hard to cope with, especially if you are a creative player. Creating is famously much harder than destroying, so it is a lot to ask in every single outing, but that is what is being demanded.

If you are not the keeper or one of the three centre-backs, then you are expected to score or create a goal regularly. You are certainly expected to create chances most weeks. I loved the moment after the game against Newcastle when Ben Chilwell said he was disappointed not to score after notching in three Premier League games in a row. That is the level of expectation the players have, and they are now putting that pressure on themselves.

I mention the centre-backs not feeling the same pressure as they must concentrate on clean sheets, but it would appear no one has told them. Four goals shipped in 11 league games is incredible, but against Burnley Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva both came within a hair's breadth of scoring.

Maybe they feel a little of that pressure to score themselves too this season. Well, they have already got five between the four of them with Trevoh Chalobah ahead with two while Andreas, Thiago and Toni Rudiger have one each.

The next three games after the international break are Leicester, Juventus and Manchester United. Should we be worried or excited? I know which one I am!

On the day before the Manchester United game on 27 November I will be hosting the Stamford Bridge Stadium Tour, so if you are in town and fancy meeting up, there are still a few spaces left.

On the actual day of the game against United I will be in the club shop signing and maybe selling a few copies of my recent autobiography The Accidental Footballer between 12 noon and 1pm. Again, if you are around, pop in for a chat.

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