In the meeting of his two former clubs at the weekend, there proved to be something lacking in the Chelsea performance. Blues legend Pat Nevin analyses that here in this week’s column and he sees it being quickly remedied…
One of the most difficult things in football and in life is to own up to yourself when you are being biased. Do we really see the referee’s mistakes as clearly when they are in our favour? If you have a favourite player, are you quick to excuse his errors, but if a player who is in your bad books does the same thing, be honest he is going to get lambasted.I was thinking this when Edouard Mendy rushed out and then wiped-out Dominic Calvert-Lewin for the penalty at Goodison Park. Could you imagine the uproar in the media, both national and social, had that been Kepa? Yes, I know it is a cumulative thing, but in reality, some people, players and indeed some positions get an easier ride.I say this with the self-awareness that I, for most of my career, and all of the Chelsea bit, got a very easy ride from the fans and the press. Chelsea fans were incredibly forgiving of my mistakes. I told myself it was because I always worked hard and was the creative type that the fans liked, but that was unfair on some others who got the bird at the first misplaced pass, whereas I didn’t.
We all have our blind spots. I personally struggle to watch the recent incarnation of a well-known opposition player without thinking ‘Why doesn’t that guy make more of an effort with the talents he has?’ and it has now got to the stage where I think I am unfairly biased towards him, because that idea is now so firmly planted in my mind…or maybe I’m just right. The thing is it will take a lot to turn me around, not just the odd, good game or 20-yard screamer into the top corner.So, what is this all about? Well, I am very wary of going on about wingers, creative types generally and their importance because it sounds like I am being biased in their favour. I was one of them for nearly two whole decades as a professional footballer and of course I am going to be on their side to some degree, that is natural.It is also the reason I try to hold back on my appreciation of them sometimes. Against Everton however it was just too much, boy did we miss Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech. Frank concurred when talking about the match afterwards.
When you play away from home and have nearly three-quarters of the possession and then come off after 90-odd minutes and say we hardly created anything special, you know where the problem lies. The intelligence, the movement, the skillset and most importantly, the pure ability to think unlike the others, is almost always what you need in these circumstances.When you face a well-drilled, super-defensive and highly motivated group like Carlo Ancelotti put out, then if you haven’t got that imagination when you go a goal down, then you can seriously struggle.Several players had a bad day at the office, and sadly that just happens sometimes. Usually, Frank just has to turn around, look at his bench and the answers are sitting there staring him in the face, literally! This time the obvious answers had been sitting in the treatment room back at our Cobham base.A former international manager of mine with Scotland described me and that type of player in general as the lock opener. A battering ram was of limited use in these circumstances. That heavy reinforced door at Goodison needed something a little more cerebral than the honest efforts of a hefty shoulder or two against it.Let’s hope one or all of these three players are back as soon as possible, or that someone else can take up the mantle in the short term. Maybe Mason Mount in the number 10 role could do a turn as the creative spark, or possibly Billy Gilmour pushed a little further forward. He might have the technical skills from a more central area to slip those cunning passes through. It could be something else, possibly a few more crosses in from Reece James and Ben Chilwell might do the trick. It is obvious however that inability to get through those packed defences was one of the weak links last season.
Frank knew what had to be done and the answers were found, it is just a shame they were all injured at the same time this week. I do hope and expect it to be a short-term problem, one that might also have a very quick answer. When you think of the other problems last season, it has been a pleasure to watch each of them being solved one at a time.First, we were shipping too many goals, that has been sorted. Questions defensively from set-pieces, particularly corners, that has been sorted too. There will still be some goals lost from there this season, that is just how the game goes, but the numbers are well down.Then there was the limited danger from our own set-pieces and that has certainly improved this term. Even against Everton our three best efforts came from set-plays. Reece’s shot off the post was from a corner, Kurt Zouma’s chance in the first half was from a Chilwell free-kick and there was Mason Mount’s free-kick that hit the post near the end. The creativity in open play is all we were missing from Saturday night as we dominated possession.So, is it time to worry after a mediocre performance? Definitely not! The games are coming think and fast with Wolves tonight. The right result and performance there will go a long way to putting us back on the right track. It was a superb run up until the weekend. Now we have to put another one together again. With that amount of possession each week, with the odd creative player returning, with those whose form dipped for a game getting it back and with a few tweaks from the management, I have every hope and indeed total confidence that we will be back to winning ways very quickly. Or am I just being biased?