Three points in the bag and flashes that understandings in the Chelsea team are already developing. That is the Pat Nevin verdict after the Brighton win and looking ahead, his mouth is watering at the entertainment that could be served up when we host Liverpool on Sunday…
Rome wasn’t built in a day, everybody knows that. And football teams aren’t built in 90 minutes, every sensible football fan knows that too. Not that this will stop headline writers and large sections of social media suggesting the meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool at the weekend will show just how far Chelsea have either come, or have to go to get close to the current champions.In reality it will not even be an honest snapshot because Liverpool have been building that particular team for years and it is about as tight and settled a group of players you are likely to see at any football club anywhere.Chelsea are clearly an early work in progress in comparison and may well be for a little while with all the new signings, which is not to say the team will be anything less than competitive against anyone in the Premier League on any particular day. The game against Brighton gave plenty of clues but fewer concrete answers. Timo Werner is going to be loved by all of us. Even if you are nothing more than an average player and you put in that sort of work rate, real fans will warm to you, because you clearly care. But if you happen to be talented, lightning fast and a natural goalscorer too, you could quickly become a cult figure at the club.
There were flashes of understanding between the newbies and the current team, but in reality that takes a little while to gel fully. Yes, I know they are top footballers and can play together perfectly well, but it is that extra bit on top that makes the difference. Things like understanding where the strengths and preferences of all your new team-mates are, where they want the ball and what are their specific favourite skills. Timo Werner is probably aware that Reece James is really good at crossing from the right-hand side, but does he know yet that Reece is actually sensational in that area when he is in mid-season form? He will get to know soon enough.One of the things that we will enjoy is the adaptability of the group. I mentioned last week that Timo, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic can all play anywhere along the front line and to some degree behind that line as well. That is also the case in other areas too. It may well be that the last five minutes were quietly amongst the most important tactically of the whole match, in terms of the future of the club.
Jorginho went off with tiredness having dominated the previous 20 minutes. He killed the game stone dead with his ability to take and keep possession anywhere, particularly deep, sometimes in our own penalty box. His penalty up the other end was as ever fabulous, we almost take that for granted now, but there are those of us who watch him play like that and feel he would probably be chosen to start by any team on the planet. His interception for the first goal was also pure class, understanding what his opponent was thinking of doing, even before he did.I digress. Jorginho went off, Cesar Azpilicueta sprinted on and Reece James languidly stepped into midfield and looked like he owned the area within seconds. It is not stylish to say it with the brilliance of Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool, but the Reds’ full-back is not a shoo-in to keep that place for England while James is still playing at right full-back. Reece could however be a central midfield colossus for the club in the months and years to come and if Gareth Southgate wants, maybe that is how he eventually fits both into the Three Lions’ set-up together.
Reece’s goal was extraordinary and considering how sweetly he strikes the ball, surely now he has his first Premier League goal, others will follow to add to the assists he already provides. If he finds himself in that midfield in the short- or long-term, there will be plenty more opportunities for those thunderbolts.All this, and N’Golo Kante’s usual class, is not to ignore the fact it was far from a totally smooth performance that worked like clockwork throughout. It wasn’t. It was however a nod towards how we can see off teams like Brighton while knowing there is still a great deal of improvement to come in the coming weeks and months.Liverpool will be a huge test when they roll up at the weekend. The last game at Anfield ended 5-3 and was one of the most incredible games of the season, but it certainly shouldn’t completely overshadow the 2-0 win we had in the FA Cup the last time the teams met at Stamford Bridge.
There is no question about the ability of that Liverpool frontline to score goals, as Leeds United found out last week, but the defence is looking a lot less watertight over the last few months. They shipped three goals or more against us, Man City, Atletico Madrid, Watford and then Leeds United, so teams are beginning to work out where the cracks are. It is partly down to the way they play, both full-backs flying forward at the same time, leaving the two centre-backs exposed now and again. However if they score as freely as they do, the strikers can usually dig them out of trouble.
The great thing for football lovers is that I do not think we will be any less cavalier than them on Sunday. It could and should lead to an open, high-tempo match with lots of chances and maybe quite a few goals. I will be looking at the tactical side of this one very closely indeed because of the willingness and ability of both managers to change things around tactically during matches if things aren’t going their way.Klopp’s moves are less dramatic than Frank’s, maybe switching the positions of the front three, asking Salah to play as a ‘10’ instead of on the right wing, or asking Firmino to be the ‘false’ 9 instead of the obvious striker. Frank on the other hand often makes statement substitutions and happily changes the system far more dramatically.That in itself will be worth studying while everyone gauges where the two teams are from this one outing. We know that by the end of the season, Chelsea will almost certainly be a lot further down the line in Frank’s journey to be serious challengers again, whatever happens against Liverpool.