Pat Nevin: What I was hoping when Chelsea were awarded penalty against Man United

Blues legend Pat Nevin is not overly disappointed by Chelsea dropping points at the weekend due to plenty of bravery on show, which he celebrates in this week’s column…


How many times have you thought this is the most important game of the season so far? Certainly the visit of Man United had a few people saying just that, but at heart we all know there will be quite a few more to come that will seem just as vital, if not more so, as the season progresses.

It was however at the end of a period when the team really had to hold its own. The recent just-as-crucial wins against Leicester and of course Juventus means that it has been a successful run, even if it was infuriating not to get the three points against United at the end.

I refused to be downcast because there were so many positives on the day. Firstly, we dominated United and they were resigned to playing only on the break, which when they got lucky after Jorginho’s mis-control looked like a pretty good, if stunningly negative tactic. The ‘pass’ that led to their goal would have looked more at home at Twickenham than a top football ground but it worked and then the character of our players shone through, particularly Jorginho himself.

The list of demons to be overcome by our no.5 as he stepped forward to take that penalty didn’t start and finish with him trying to make up for the earlier mistake. What would he have felt like had he not only given away the goal but then missed the penalty into the bargain? The media, be it social, national or international, would have had a field day, or indeed month!

Remember he has not only missed the odd one for the Blues but what about the save by Pickford in the shoot-out when Italy played England in the final of the Euros? That could have had other mere mortals pleading not take another for a while, but his personal agony was even more than that.

Against Switzerland recently he missed again, but this time it led directly to Italy failing to qualify directly for the World Cup finals. Had he scored that, they would be through instead of now having to face North Macedonia and maybe then Turkey or Portugal, including Ronaldo again, to see if they can qualify.

'I am happy Jorginho tried to control the ball that eventually led to the United goal.'

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

All of this must have been going through his mind, along with the fact that De Gea recently saved important spot-kicks. I will admit that for the first time ever I was hoping he might step aside and let someone like Reece James walk up and just leather the ball as hard as possible. Worst case scenario, I hoped Jorginho would hoof the thing instead of his little hop, skip and jump for a change.

We all know the outcome now, but that took some nerve to believe in himself enough to let the keeper move first and stroke it the other way. Maybe there is a deeper story here. Thomas Tuchel has clearly told the team as a group to believe in themselves and their abilities. This is not a group that plays with fear. In fact it is quite the opposite. From Toni Rudiger to Callum Hudson-Odoi, these look like players who have been told to express themselves, albeit within a structure.

Watching Trevoh Chalobah suddenly ‘know’ he is as good as any top international striker he comes up against in a one-v-one is a joy to behold. Yes, his goals have helped boost his confidence but surely not as much as his manager’s belief in him and his encouragement. Toni Rudiger may have blazed the glory opportunity over the bar in the last seconds against United, but what on earth was he doing at the back post in the first place, in a break away, that he had started with a tackle in the vicinity of his own box? Not forgetting his lash against the bar in the first half, this is a man who has been given the licence to roam. There are coaches out there who would tell you never to do this!

I well remember Ricardo Carvalho bounding away ball at feet on another break, only to see him look over to the touchline to find Jose Mourinho glowering with a look that clearly said, ‘Don’t you dare leave your defensive post, pass it to someone and get back.’ There is no right or wrong in that situation, but I know which method I prefer to watch.

I know from experience that there are plenty of players out there who become better just by telling them how good they are or how good they can be. Keep reminding them of their limitations on the other hand and they shrink into a dull safety and security.

It will almost certainly surprise many of you when I say that in retrospect, I am happy Jorginho tried to control the ball that eventually led to the United goal. 999 times out of 1000, he controls that, and we play on in possession. He and Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante do the brave thing hundreds of times and it leads to great things more often than not, but now and again you must accept it will not work.

Remember Thiago Silva against West Brom and N’Golo against Arsenal? It happens, but it is the price of being brave. Just ask Pep Guardiola after more than a year of pundits telling his players to ‘get rid’ of the ball in dangerous areas at the back instead of playing out. Pep was right and they were wrong, and City became a fine team with that precise tactic at the base of everything they do.

We are anything but clones of Man City, I happen to think we have a quicker more dynamic style, but we share that bravery on the ball and I hope we never lose it, even when there is the odd goal lost.

We will not change the attitude tomorrow or for any of the nine, yes nine games in December. With that many games in such a short period of time there will need to be some heavy rotation, but just as importantly, we have to dominate possession. You can rest when you have the ball, you cannot when you are chasing it. Do that and we could come out of this month the way we enter it, top of the league and still in every competition.

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