In his column this week, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin looks back on the last two drawn results and hopes players will not have to follow in his and his contemporaries’ footsteps…
It has been an infuriating time for the Chelsea men’s first team, a period that saw the smooth progression of many months suddenly get much bumpier. Every team goes through difficult patches and coaches plan for these rocky roads, especially if they coincide with losing a bunch of important players to injury. You pick your way through it and try to stay in touch, until you can get all the pieces back together again.Just as it looked like we were coming out of the worst of it all, with N’Golo Kante (love the Chelsea video below where he is reading my book!) and Mateo Kovacic coming back into the fold, and it looked like Thomas Tuchel could start breathing more easily again, the entire thing folded in on itself once more with the raft of coronavirus call offs. Half a team became unavailable again almost overnight.
Against Everton we had the usual lion’s share of possession – 81 per cent this time - and a whole bunch of chances were created but we still dropped two points after one wickedly delivered free-kick undid our entire defence.
That one was painful, but the pain was being felt in more ways than one. By the time the squad, or what was left of it, rolled into Wolverhampton it was beginning to look a bit silly and even quite concerning. On the BBC after the Everton game, I mused that it was beginning to feel a bit odd playing under the current circumstances, in front of huge crowds, with players out left, right and centre at almost every single club. By the end of the Wolves game Thomas Tuchel clearly felt the same, underlining how many players were testing positive and isolating and how it could easily get worse before it improves.
Oddly enough I was pretty impressed by the Chelsea performance, considering everything that was happening behind the scenes. It was a less than sparkling affair of course, with the mist fittingly hiding some of the duller parts of the game. Even with a depleted squad and only one striker available however, we still managed to dominate Wolves for the vast majority of the game. Admittedly there were precious few attempts at goal from us, but if any side deserved to win it was Chelsea and but for a fine save by Sa from Christian Pulisic, justice and maybe three points would have been served.It was hard to argue too much with the single point though. One shot on target by each team over 90 minutes couldn’t exactly be described as a whirlwind display by either camp, even if we did have two-thirds of the possession away from home. Whatever way you look at it, and you probably will never look at it again, the match will not live long in the memory.But why was it dull? Was it dull because of the limited squad available, after an incredibly tough schedule? Was it the inability to bring in fresh faces and maybe even the possibility of illness already working on some of those on the pitch, even if it wasn’t quite showing up in the tests yet?
It is hard to tell what was going on, because yes, having tired players can lead to dull games, but it can also sometimes lead to exciting games with lots of chances and plenty of goals. When players are tired, they make mental and physical mistakes. There is more space on the pitch when the players can’t quite cover the same acreage, which gives the creative types much more scope, so that alone should lead to more chances.I often look back to the occasions when I had to play twice in two days during my career, yes, I know it sounds like a form of madness. It didn’t happen often, but the second game was usually wide open when it did. Classically the Full Members’ Cup final at Wembley when we beat Man City 5-4 was probably a nine-goal thriller because both sides had played in the league the day before, ourselves winning away at Southampton.What wasn’t clear at the time and what would be overlooked as the season progressed, was the damage that had been done by pushing the team and the squad too far. We had a shocker of a run after that weekend even if we won both of those games. The squad was ravaged by injuries and many players had dramatic dips in form. We wouldn’t have considered blaming the tight schedule back then, but in retrospect it was definitely the case that it helped to destroy our entire season.
This is why the current situation has become so concerning. Many players can and will plough their way through, however many games they are asked to play in. Can you imagine Cesar Azpilicueta saying, ‘No boss, I don’t fancy playing today, I am feeling a little tired.’ The concept of Mason Mount not being up for it, whenever he is asked to go the extra mile, or extra 10 miles in his case, is also beyond the pale.Players have to be protected sometimes from overwork, and sometimes even from themselves.The medical departments are much more complex these days and the dangers of overwork and possibility of injuries about to occur, are better understood. The problem is, there isn’t much you can do about resting players in the red injury danger zone, if you only have 14 or 15 of them fit. Trying to explain to the authorities that player A isn’t actually injured yet, but he soon will be, isn’t cutting it.Whatever the decisions made over the next days I hope for a few things. We do what is best for the safety of everyone, be you a fan or a player. I also hope that when the current spike in cases wanes, we haven’t left our club and indeed any club with a heap of injured players that spoils the rest of the season as a spectacle.Eventually there will be a colossal squeeze of games this season and there is no simple answer to it. These matches close together will, however, be slightly easier to manage if the squads are not then riddled with Covid. Who knows, at the end, we might even have to play two games in two days. Maybe not, maybe that is just too old school.