Of course there is only one subject Chelsea legend Pat Nevin wishes to write about this week and although the team effort was vital to making club history in Abu Dhabi at the weekend, there are player sub-plots that deserve telling here…
Winning the Club World Cup was a joyous event and for once the players were probably able to actually celebrate it a little! Even though it is smack bang in the middle of the busiest of seasons, an entire week, just about, until the next game is a luxury the lads do not often get, but it is a well-deserved bonus.Every successful final has its own stories that become the folklore. There is the usual truism that it is a team effort and nobody should be singled out for special praise. This is true but it is usually ignored because the stories write themselves.You just can’t ignore the Cesar Azpilicueta narrative this time. Having now bagged every title you could want in the club game, he has lost nothing of his ability or his enthusiasm, whether it is a run-of-the-mill league game or a prestigious final.He is also not averse to using every single ounce of his experience to help himself, the team and any individual in blue around him. Maybe you have heard of a player taking the ball at a vital moment in the build-up to a penalty to relieve the pressure exerted on his team-mate, but I haven’t.
It was a moment of supreme intelligence, psychological knowledge and selfless awareness. Every Palmeiras player and all of us watching fell for it hook, line and sinker. Only Kai Havertz seemed in on it, and he quietly allowed Azpi to take the sledging before calmly taking the ball himself at the last second.You should never underestimate the importance of a player who thinks outside the box in that way. I suspect this action will become the ‘done thing’ in these sorts of situations from now on. He may not have been the first to trick the opposition in this way, but the high profile of doing it at the Club World Cup final before Kai slotted in the winner was a game changer, in every sense.
All the other narratives are pretty appealing too. Kai himself scoring the winner in the Champions League as well as the Club World Cup makes you wonder if he is going to have one of those blessed careers that very few footballers ever have, even the greats. If I was a betting man, I would be tempted to have a look at the odds of him scoring the winner in the FA Cup final, the Euros and the World Cup final before he is 30.What about Edouard Mendy? You win Afcon and then another world-class trophy within a week, how do you top that? Well, you might struggle to beat it, but why not get the hat-trick and win the Carabao Cup and have three trophies in the cabinet in the space of a month. When you are on a roll you just go with it I guess. That’s before you even consider his personal award as the world’s best keeper according to the FIFA poll.
Alongside the joy, I cannot help thinking ahead and I am sure Thomas Tuchel will be the same. I suspect when he looks back at the game over the next week he will be as impressed with Romelu Lukaku as he was with anyone in a Chelsea shirt. Yes, it probably had more sweat on it than Thiago Silva’s, but then the Brazilian does tend to glide through games effortlessly most of the time and he rightly picked up the MVP award in Abu Dhabi, but it was a special effort by our striker too.He scored the opening goal when under serious pressure from three players, but it was his movement, his link-up play and his general attitude that jumped out at me. I would go so far as to say this is my favourite Romelu performance since his move back to the Bridge in the summer. It is hard enough chasing defenders and leading the high press but doing it in those warm conditions is harder still.He looked as sharp, lively and lithe as he was back in Italy where he had a superb time for Inter. This is exactly what the manager wants to see and in fact what he has been demanding. Performances like this will not only make him look better, but every single player around him will benefit as he ties up two and three players at a time.
I also loved the little things by Romelu. When he was subbed, much to many people’s surprise, he dashed off the field in a positive way showing that he respected the manager’s decision and indeed respected the player who would be replacing him. Nobody likes being subbed, but personal disappointment has to be secondary to the team ethic. I loved that little moment but also his attitude on the bench and afterwards in the celebrations. He looked totally integrated and happy.Romelu might not be able to put that much effort in for 90 minutes every three of four days, but then what striker does these days? Rotation is vital.
I look at the likes of Ronaldo just now who wants to play every moment of every game at Man United, which I understand, but in reality he should be rested and kept fresh for his own good some times. Being the single striker on point is exhausting these days, playing in a high-tempo side. Kai and Timo can step into that role and now having this option is probably one of the things that added most to the boss’s beaming smile at the end of the game.Some of the pressure on the team has been relieved now that there is already a major trophy in the bag this season, Roman Abramovich and indeed all the fans expect nothing less than a trophy a season these days. The other competitions now can be approached with just a little less jeopardy, if no less desire.I actually think it will help us in the upcoming Carabao Cup final against Liverpool. They may be above us in the league but they are coming up against the world and European champions, so there will be absolutely nothing to fear from our side. The last game at the Bridge between us and Liverpool is another reason to be positive. We were the better team over the piece even if we only got a point, but I am getting ahead of myself.One tournament and one trophy at a time. Selhurst Park beckons and a chance to put even more clear blue water between us and the others chasing for that top-four place. Suddenly this is the most important game in the world, or at least it is how it has to be approached if we are going to get all three points.