Having succeeded in playing the long-game for the season by playing a controlled game against Wolves, Chelsea’s league season promises much for 2020/21 reckons columnist Pat Nevin. He is also looking forward to this weekend’s FA Cup final…
In some ways it sounds odd for Chelsea to celebrate finishing fourth in the Premier League. After all, this club has become used to winning things in recent years. It is however right to underline just how good a job Frank Lampard and the lads have done this season. The win against Wolves on Sunday was a perfect example of some important things that he has introduced.First and foremost was the ability to adapt to different circumstances. The systems used have changed throughout the season and often during games, but more than that has been the different way each system has been utilised in each game. Against Wolves it was a grafting, battling performance that needed physicality and a willingness to get down and dirty to get the result. The reward came at the tail end of the first half, but by the start of the second period that same 3-4-3 was used to control the game through intricate passing and parsimonious possession.The words that sprung to mind were ‘good game management’ and it is something that fewer teams truly have than you might imagine. Frank would like to see that more often next season as, to be honest, there have been precious few games that have been totally under control in the second half. It was a major relief for once to give the fingernails a rest.
So the last day rollercoaster ride never appeared and by the end it was more like a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive to the finishing line with no one in the rear-view mirror. There was even time to reflect on just how well we have done against the ‘Big Guns’ of late. Our last outings against Man City, Man Utd, Spurs, Leicester and now Wolves have all ended in wins, and there were victories over Liverpool in the FA Cup and Arsenal just after Christmas. That gives just as much hope for next season as the top-four finish. You don’t get lucky that many times against the best the Premier League can throw at you!There will be more time to look back after the cup final against Arsenal and of course the Bayern Munich game, but once again I looked around our side and spotted a whole bunch of players who have been written off this season, by various media, be it parts of social or mainstream. From Marcos Alonso to Jorginho, I have heard it said that their time is up, only for them to charge back into the forefront of the team.Be honest with yourself, at the start of the season how many people do you know who were calling time on Cesar Azpilicueta’s Chelsea career, and how much louder did the rumblings get when Reece James arrived so explosively on the scene? Now here we are and Dave has been a star throughout in a multitude of positions. He has maybe had his best season in a Chelsea shirt, he has become a real danger in the opposition box and a creative force into the bargain, with more assists and goals than ever before. If anyone makes a claim that he should be our player of the year, I certainly will not be putting up any arguments against it.
So who else’s Chelsea career has been written off? It is of course Olivier Giroud who was playing second fiddle to Tammy and although admired by all, it was suspected he would leave as early as January. He didn’t, he stayed and has also had arguably his best spell for the club, and lately one of the best periods of his entire career in terms of goals scored per game.It just shows the danger of knee-jerk reactions, the kind that Frank Lampard has been loathe to have. Instead of giving up on players, he has worked with them, encouraged them, supported them and been honest with them. It is hard to imagine anyone leaving the club and having a bad word to say about how they have been treated.Pedro will be going in the summer but you just know that the infectious smile that is never far away from his face will be there as he waves goodbye. He has been a great servant who gave everything for every moment he was on the field for us. I am saddened we will not be able to give him the send-off he deserves in front of the fans at the Bridge. He deserves at least that.
There is however the small matter of an FA Cup final to deal with first. Maybe it is because of the focus on the league and Champions League qualification, maybe it is because of the lack of fans in the stadium and to be honest, the fact that football’s importance has been put in perspective this season, but I have never felt so calm before a Chelsea cup final. There is much less pressure because in many ways it is such an unexpected bonus considering the thoughts at the start of the season.Will this have a negative effect on the team when they walk out at Wembley? I doubt that very much. They will be up for it and they will also be rested. With any luck we could have either N’Golo or Willian back, maybe even both. The amazing thing is that if neither makes it, we will still feel confident going into this one. This season that ability to adapt, as well as the growth in the depth of the squad with the addition of all the youngsters, means that Arsenal probably have no idea what they are going to face.I am sure of one thing, it will be a positive, attack-minded side that David Luiz and his chums will be up against. To be fair, Mikel Arteta is an attack-minded coach too, so it could be a classic to end the domestic season which would be fitting. Football has stepped up to the plate when everyone needed a lift in these difficult times. Let’s hope it is the showcase the game deserves. I suspect it will be.
Read: Key statistics from our win over Wolves