A very good weekend for the Blues is analysed here by Chelsea legend Pat Nevin who also looks ahead to what sort of Liverpool team we will face tomorrow in a massive match…
Sunday was one of the best days for Chelsea for a very long time. To watch Leicester slip up again in the league before going out onto the pitch at Wembley and blowing Manchester United away was glorious and if we are honest, to some degree unexpected. I try not to think about how we would have felt had those two results gone the other way. Actually, I will try to think.We would be out of the cup, we would all be a bit fed up with that obviously. Leicester would be sitting two points ahead of us in the league, Manchester United would be breathing down our necks, the pressure would be on and there would be questions in some parts of the media about Frank’s decision making. The Liverpool and Wolves matches would be looming ominously instead of being games we are now looking forward to with gusto.These thoughts are all very short-term, I have heard it said that if Frank wins the FA Cup for us and makes the top four, then it has been a successful season. I think it has been successful even if we manage neither. The building of the squad, the implementation of youth, the impressive moves in the transfer market as well as the hope and joy he has given the fans with our style of play is success enough in this first year. Any more than that is a bonus, but yes we are all hoping for those two big bonuses at the end of the season.
From that bad day at the office up in Sheffield, when I refused to get carried away with the doom mongers along with many other sensible Blues fans, we have shown some incredible levels of character. Looking back at Frank’s post-match comments then, they seem even more prescient now.
‘I learned a lot today.’ He didn’t explain in detail all the things he learned but he was open about the fact that we were too quiet as a team, the spirit wasn’t flowing and we were out-fought by a very driven team. Fortunately those failings are all areas that can be changed fairly quickly by a good, vigilant coaching staff.You have to work on the belief of the players, encourage them to be noisy and talkative on the field with each other, sometimes get them to communicate even if it isn’t always highly intellectual ground-breaking tactical insights. Just geeing up your team-mates consistently can be enough. The fighting spirit is something that is clearly in there and that just had to be released. Frank sorted that out in time for United and Wembley.
The more nuanced things he learned up north standing beside Chris Wilder might have been more tactical. There are some games when even if you love playing 4-3-3, it just isn’t the right call for the team you are playing against. Frank knew this already having done Jose earlier in the season with our 3-4-3 and against Sheffield United, he saw what can happen if we are even just a tiny little bit too young, too naïve, too open and…too nice. The Premier League will eat you up and spit you out in those circumstances. Lesson learnt and even if he put that same team out again he would send them out with more fire in their bellies this time.Maybe another thing Frank might have considered is the effect Sheffield United have had this season with their infamous overlapping and centre-backs. It has got them a load of goals because those defenders aren’t supposed to be up there in the opposing half in open play, so they are harder to mark and they cause mass confusion. Against Manchester United, Cesar Azpilicueta was one of our three centre-backs, no honestly he was. Even though that was his starting position he was regularly hammering up the wing, overlapping Reece James, and even closing down the opposition late in the game at their corner flag…in open play!
Read: The stats from the game at Wembley
Many things had to go well for us to beat United, but the overload situations that Frank and Jody set up with Cesar, Willian and Reece all running at the young and inexperienced Brandon Williams on our right-hand side was genius. It led to the first goal and was consistently dangerous throughout.
It helps that Reece James is now right back to the skilful, controlled, powerful and unflappable form he showed before the lockdown. When you watch him play like that against a club as big as Manchester United, with Marcus Rashford roaming around in his area, you realise that he is up there with the best in the business at that position.
Can we do it? Well it is worth remembering just what we have done in the big games against the big teams lately. In our most recent matches against Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester, Spurs, Wolves and now Manchester United, we have won each time. This is exactly the sort of mindset you need when your season has a minimum of four games left against four very good teams.I have no idea what type of team Liverpool will put out tomorrow and I have even less certainty about their state of mind. They want to beat Chelsea, they always do, but since being crowned champions they have won two, lost two and drawn the other. Not bad but a long way from the unstoppable force they have been before. They aren’t weak, they are not a poor side but are they as motivated as before? This is what we as a team have to find out by showing them we have the hunger and desire of a club that knows Champions League football could await at the end of 90 hard-working minutes.I will not be the first or the last to say it, but unglamorous as it may look in comparison to Wembley on 1 August, the match against Liverpool is just as big a cup final and arguably a bigger one because of what it brings. Just one last push and what we have wanted these last nine months will be delivered safely.
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