Pat Nevin: Why scoring against Spurs is hard to top

In this week’s column, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin celebrates curled goals against Tottenham past and present and looks into a ‘phenomenal’ performance from one of the players and why he has made a step up…

I don’t know how many people have said to me, ‘It was great to get a win before the break,’ or ‘It’s a good time for Chelsea to get a break’.
I got a little confused at that point, but mostly because I still look at the calendar with the eyes of a player.

There was a game on Sunday against Spurs, there is another game in two weekends’ time in the FA Cup and in the month of February, Chelsea will have six games in 22 days. One and maybe even two of those games will be cup finals. There is the small matter of the trip out to the UAE as the well as the fact there is the odd international match around the planet, which might also have to be factored in for some players.

This doesn’t sound like much of a break to me, even if the Premier League is having a little time off from our perspective. It is quite an extraordinary little period when five of our next six games are in different competitions. Obviously you want to have a go at them all, but what are the most important ones? The early rounds of the FA Cup, the final of the Carabao, Club World Cup, the Premier League or the Champions league when Lille rock up to town?

Right now, I couldn’t put them in any sort of order of importance, you will only know at the end of the season which tournament is the crucial one, when you look at the trophy cabinet and see what is or isn’t in there. One thing is for sure, the game against Spurs was among the most vital in the campaign so far, and I felt that before the game as well as afterwards.

Every true Chelsea fan didn’t particularly like the idea of Spurs, unbeaten in the league since Antonio Conte arrived, winning and finding themselves five points behind us with four games in hand. Happily, from the first minute, the Blues looked unlikely to ship one point never mind all three. It was a superb performance and among our best in the past few months. I was co-commentating for the website and 5th Stand app with Jason Cundy and he said in the first couple of minutes, ‘Hakim Ziyech is on fire’. I thought he was getting carried away so early but if anything, it was an understatement. Ziyech was phenomenal.

It is hard to say why there was a such a huge jump in the quality of his performance and it could be a number of factors. He has had a period with enough match minutes under his belt that he is now fully match fit and he is playing without any niggling injuries to boot. It is certainly the case that the system suited him perfectly as did the players around him. Mason Mount and Hakim looked like they were working telepathically but do not underestimate the selfless runs that Mason was making to drag players away and create either space or a passing option for his mate.

I suspect the biggest difference is nothing more than he has managed to get a jolt of confidence from somewhere. The goal against Brighton is one place where that might have come from, but on top of that the manager’s belief in him must also be having a huge effect. Whatever Thomas Tuchel has been seeing in training, he has been desperate to get it out onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge. It happened wonderfully at the weekend.

The goal into the top corner will be up there in all our goal-of-the-season thoughts when the time comes. I usually like to vote for a goal of the season that is a complex move with intricate passing or a mazy dribble beating a few, but this time the long, wickedly curling piece of pure class was nothing less than a thing of beauty. It is right up there.

Scoring it against Spurs helps as well of course! I recall scoring a free-kick against them at the Shed End (and yes there was some wicked curl on that, which only shows from the high behind camera), so I know the joy of scoring one against our great rivals and it is a feeling that is very hard to top. It also has a special resonance for our fans who tend to remember goals against them.

I have heard the phrase ‘turning point’ used when many players have a good game and I am always wary of that. Any good professional can have a special game out of the blue. This however felt different, this looked like a player who finally utterly believed in himself and felt at one with Stamford Bridge. In fact there were moments when he looked like he owned it with that exceptional quality of passing.

On top of this he felt a new level of warmth and appreciation by the fans and that does wonders for creative players. If Hakim can continue to feel at home, stay fit and the confidence remains, he could be the player that we have been crying out for to turn some of those draws into wins. This is not to underestimate the quality of Mason and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the day, as they were very special too and can be game-changers against anyone. Suddenly there was a real feeling of happiness and maybe a little relief around the Bridge.

It was a happier end to what has been a painful time for many of us. The players wore black arm bands against Spurs in memory of Richard Bignell who died recently. In my many years working at Chelsea and indeed beyond I have never met a nicer, kinder or more genuine and caring man. He was deeply loved by all of us who worked under him at Chelsea TV, and it is deeply uncommon for bosses to be thought of in that way. 

More than anything I, and many of us, have lost a close, dear and committed friend who gave decades of time, effort and talent to this club. I will never walk into Stamford Bridge again without thinking of him and missing him.

Goodbye Tricky and my deepest sympathies go to all his family and his friends.

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