As Chelsea continue to build momentum on the field, Blues legend Pat Nevin assesses another impressive display on the road and looks ahead to a clash of European titans at the Bridge tonight...
If ever a fixture looked like a tricky one, then away at Leicester had a big yellow banana skin sketched all over it. Fortunately, on the day Chelsea were as sure-footed as they have been all season. Once again there were a bunch of candidates wearing yellow, not slipping on it, for the man of the match award. I noticed later on TV that they gave it to Thiago Silva which delighted me and doubtless many of you as well.
Finally, people are beginning to realise that our Brazilian Rolls Royce of a centre back is effortlessly and classily cruising away from just about anyone he is up against week after week.
It was anything but a one-man show from our classic (I refuse to say veteran) defender, but it was just as pleasing to see five of our starters aged 22 or under. I am convinced this wasn’t done for effect by Thomas Tuchel, he just picks the players he thinks are the right ones for each game, no matter what age they are.
What it did is allowed Tuchel the chance to ruminate over which players to use against Juventus tonight in this vital clash. Reece James’ exceptional power and danger from the right or the vastly experienced Cesar Azpilicueta. In times gone by, against the rugged experience that Juve have, the temptation would be to go with Azpi, but that decision and a whole bunch of others seem too close to call right now.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side have managed to pull a bit of form together after what for them has been a very disappointing start to their Serie A campaign so far. Fourteen points behind leaders Napoli is bordering on unthinkable in their recent history. To put it into some perspective, right now they are further behind Napoli in their league than Manchester United are behind Chelsea in the Premier League!
It underlines that this season it could well be Champions League or bust for the Old Lady of Turin, so expect every bit of skill, ingenuity, gamesmanship and experience to be utilised tonight. They are just as keen to finish top of the group as we are, so this isn’t going to be a case of two top sides comfortably cruising through to the knockout stages, this could be a battle.
Among the most interesting things tonight will be whether or not Juve are as positive with their system as they have been for most of the season. The 4-4-2 they favour has been considered out of date for many years, but they are among a small number of sides who have decided it should be ‘a la mode’ again.
It is a very brave call to come to another top European side and be so open and tempting a midfield overload. They have flirted with a 4-3-3 to give solidity a couple of times in this competition but at the weekend against Lazio away from home they even went for a back three, in what was something close to a 3-5-2.
Although Tuchel will be acutely aware of the shifting threat, I am sure he will be much less likely to change for Juve, as they will be to adapt for us. We are at home but also, as European champions and domestic league leaders, we are on a fine run of form too, so why on earth should we change? Maybe the previous match in Turin might be on TT’s mind a little, but even in that game we had three-quarters of the possession and we just needed to be a bit cuter in the final third.
For all the excitement of fans being back regularly and the Champions League already being enjoyed by full houses at Stamford Bridge, this feels like the real deal with due respect to Zenit St Petersburg and Malmo. Juventus with Chiellini, Bonucci, Dybala, Chiesa and the rest is the start of the business end of the competition. A win tonight would be a statement from either club, for the Blues it would mean that a 1-0 defeat away from home was little more than a blip for a team that conquered all last season.
The team news will be very interesting tonight from the manager because of the experience and deep know-how the opposition has. Accepted wisdom is that you use your team's exceptional wisdom on these occasions. There is usually an over-riding temptation to get as much experience into the starting 11 as possible. Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Mateo Kovacic, Marcos Alonso, Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech all started against Juventus last time out - those players have an average age of 28.3 years.
Against Leicester at the weekend, they had been replaced, for a variety of reasons, by Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah, N’Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi. These players had an average age of 23.3 years. That five-year average age difference is huge in these particular circumstances, and I cannot wait to see what the manager goes for, as the ‘kids’ certainly didn’t let themselves or anyone else down at the weekend.
I suspect Thomas will not give the ages too much consideration as he notes down his final 11. If you are on form, look good enough during training, you are fully fit and up for it, then he is likely to give you the nod whether you are 20 or 30 years old.
Age just doesn’t seem that important anymore, just ask Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Silva, two players who will certainly start if they are uninjured, they are still that good and they are both 37!
Enjoy the game, it should be a belter.