There was a smile on Pat Nevin's face as he watched smiles return to the faces of the Chelsea players in the weekend Cup win, and he wonders if the tricky recent run of form might prove beneficial in the long run...
It was an expected win at the weekend against Morecambe, with the gap in the leagues between the two teams apparent right from the start. There were no slip-ups, but what were the positives apart from the obvious place in the next round, and a draw against Luton with Barnsley or Norwich lying in wait?
Clearly four goals and a clean sheet is just what Frank Lampard wanted, and he would also have been delighted by the identities of the scorers. Timo Werner has been getting into the right positions all the way through his recent barren run in front of goal and that would have given his boss some relief and belief. Real strikers never hide, they are always hungry and they invariably believe that the next chance will be taken and that it will also be the first in the next good scoring run.
Timo’s goal (pictured top) was particularly heartening as it was a move we have already seen before, but we will also expect to see much more often as the months and years go by. Kai Havertz’s nodded knockdown looked very simple, but that is because it has been his stock in trade throughout his short career. Back in the Bundesliga he had an incredible knack of getting into the penalty area just at the right moment and being cool when he got there.
It helps when you have a great Hakim Ziyech ball to get on the end of. If that positioning was quintessential Havertz then Hakim’s left-foot cross, after cutting inside, was classic Hakim. I honestly think that those types of crosses, with that level of accuracy and whip, are pretty close to impossible to defend when you have a willing runner on the end of it. When Kai got his goal late on it underlined once more just how good he is in these situations. I definitely expect this to be a common occurrence going forward.
So the ‘newbies’ got a much needed lift after coming under a good deal of pressure. You just have to look at Kai’s reaction when he scored to see that it was relief as much as anything that was written across his face.
The chances created and the domination were good to see, but what was even better were the general reactions of the players. It may sound like an obvious thing but, seeing the players smile and playing with such joy was just as important. If you are a creative player, or indeed creative in any sphere, it is much more productive to do it with a smile on your face. That is easier said than done when you aren’t winning every week, but somehow players like Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have to try to manage it.
Callum has that winning smile back again after what has been a superb run of form. A goal, the assist and the cocky control of the ball against Morecambe underlined the fact that the fun and the confidence is back coursing through his game right now. It doesn’t seem to matter if he is on the right- or left-hand side, he is adapting his play exceptionally well to both positions.
You need to be serious in football sometimes and nobody likes to see you grinning like a fool when you are a goal or two down, but it is important for yourself and your team-mates to know you are not fearful in those difficult situations. It is part of the reason why coaches, well the good ones anyway, do try to work on the camaraderie and the fun in training. Footballers can often look like immature kids when filmed in training, but that is not generally the case. Dull training can lead to dull players and dull performances.
Frank and Jody know this and that is why it was so good to see Frank sitting back in the dugout smiling away and having a laugh as the game progressed. This was not a sign of disrespect to the game or even the opposition, but a show to everyone around that it was alright for everyone on the field to enjoy the moment and express themselves. As a creative player throughout my career, if I glanced over at the bench the last thing I wanted to see was a row of faces looking like thunder. I wanted to see belief and at the very least encouragement most of the time.
It is also much harder to show this fun side if you are a young or new player, but it grows quickly with experience. Have a look at Mason Mount after his cracking goal. It is a picture of confident happiness, and the perfect reaction for the moment.
I reckon the recent run of form will in hindsight not be the worst thing in the world for the youngsters and the new players at the club. They will have discovered, through adversity, that you should never take the good times for granted but also that as a group together they are good enough to come out the other side as a better unit.
The next few games are going to be an interesting set of tests, but looking at the fixtures there is definitely the chance to get back on a decent run. Any run of three or four wins in a row in this season of all seasons will be enough to get us back in the hunt for the top positions.
As for the cup draw, this is still something to be savoured. The team came very close to winning the FA Cup last season and with the depth of squad we have compared to just about every other side, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be back at Wembley again.
It might still look bleak at the moment in the UK and around the world, but by May you never know. With the vaccine rolling out throughout the country, there might even be the chance for some fans to get along to Wembley. Now that really would be something to smile about.