Chelsea legend Pat Nevin reviews the weekend home win, explains why an early success in our quest for a top-four finish would be so beneficial, and states his confidence in Jorginho…
There was an odd atmosphere at the Bridge at the weekend and it was difficult to get to the root cause of why this was the case. Certainly the limitation on fan numbers could have had an effect and maybe even the warm end-of-season weather could have had some bearing, but that didn’t fully explain the tension in the air.At the end of a long, hard season there are some games that just fail to sparkle. This isn’t a new phenomenon for any side, but fortunately there was just enough magic dust to get us over the line in the dying embers of the game. Those three points could be huge as we close in on the coveted top-four position. The quicker we get there the quicker Thomas Tuchel can concentrate on the one piece of silverware still open to us, the FA Cup.It is pretty handy to have the Club World Cup trophy safely in the cabinet, but the FA Cup would put a whole different shine on the season. It may well be that Liverpool are still being pulled in three different directions by then and we might be able to get the team prepared to as close to its best as possible, with fewer alternative concerns than the Reds, especially if we have that top-four place sorted soon.
So it was three points even if the manager was at pains to explain that it has been hard to put his finger on the reasons for one or two more lacklustre performances lately. Deep down I think he knows that tiredness and a few important injuries have had some effect on some games.If you consider back to the early season when Reece James and Ben Chilwell were creating mayhem from the wide areas, it makes sense we would lose something when they weren’t been available. That is to take nothing away from Marcos Alonso, who provided perfectly well at the death against West Ham and the irrepressible Cesar Azpilicueta, who is no slouch at providing as well as getting in the area himself (see his striker’s goal against Arsenal) but not having the chance to rotate these specialists can have a negative effect.To play the 3-4-2-1 system well, those out wide in the four must be full-backs and wingers at the same time and doing even one of those jobs is taxing enough, especially if you are charged with doing it three times a week. Others have filled in well of course, but these four are the specialists, so it has in the end led to fewer vicious crosses being whipped in from wide.
At the game a fan in front of me commented that he felt the pace and trickery of Callum Hudson-Odoi is also something the manager would have liked to have used more against the type of defences we come up against most weeks, especially at Stamford Bridge. And I agreed wholeheartedly. Note how deep Arsenal, Brentford and West Ham defended and in huge numbers in recent weeks. To get through those massed defences if you haven’t got the specialist wing-backs, it is just that bit more likely when you have players such as Callum and to a good degree, Mateo Kovacic as well, who can go past players, break the lines as they say these days, and draw more defenders out of the central defensive area thus creating space for the strikers.In each of the above three home league games, we had more than two-thirds of the possession but had Christian Pulisic not grabbed that late winner we would have been sitting with only one point from the nine available. The temptation in these situations is for us to push forward even more and that is exactly the game plan those visitors had when they turned up, enabling them to nick some goals on the break.
Maybe that is part of the reason why the two recent fantastic performances against Southampton and Real Madrid were both away from home. If that is the case then we can look forward to Thursday night at Old Trafford with plenty of confidence. Manchester United desperately need a win and as such it should be a more open game which I suspect will suit us very nicely.It is now getting to that time of the season when you concentrate, if you are a real fan, on just how many points we really need. Three wins from the last six games and we can’t be caught mathematically, or should that be arithmetically, by Spurs even if they win all their games. With Arsenal and Spurs still to play each other, any outcome there helps our position, so a win at United would be a long way to job done.I don’t care how it is done, even if it is a last-minute penalty. The question would be, who will take our next one? Jorginho’s numbers are still good but I know better than anyone that if you miss a penalty, there are questions asked.The important thing is that it wasn’t important in the end. Actually neither his nor my miss was. You can thunder a ball off the inside of the crossbar, then it bounces on the line before the keeper makes a world-class wonder save on the rebound and it still amounts to the same thing in the end, it is just one missed pen.Jorginho knows this, he is a class act and has missed others, but he has always been big enough and brave enough to walk forward again when he is asked. We wait to see if he will be up next, but I still trust him as much as anyone else in the team from 12 yards.