Our regular columnist and former Blue Pat Nevin looks at the weekend draw and youth continuing to be given its chance…
Another exciting outing at the weekend but this time we only managed a point against newly promoted Sheffield United. Obviously the Blades will have been pumped up for the game at the Bridge but that means little to Frank and the boys. Managing to let two points slip away after being 2-0 up at home is just too infuriating for any coach. Of course it isn’t the first time, there was an early lead against Leicester and even at Norwich there was an early lead lost, though we managed to get that one back. It is beginning to look like a bit of a bad habit at the moment.So what is the problem? If there was a simple answer obviously it would be fixed right away and of course it might be just a little bit of bad fortune. In the first few weeks of a season match fitness levels can be the cause of a second half fade, as I have warned about already here. There is certainly something in that, but most of the players are now getting the requisite number of games under their belts so that is becoming less of an excuse as each game goes by.There is of course the callow youth argument. Youngsters not hardened to the Premier League maybe haven’t paced themselves for the exertions of this competition quite yet. Flying out of the traps every week, scoring early and dominating at the start in each of the last three league games is all well and good, but knowing when to rest after that initial burst of energy is important.
That is a perfectly understandable and reasonable idea, one that Blues fans are accepting as the youngsters learn on the job. You have to have a very good memory to recall when Chelsea last fielded a younger starting 11. Certainly not in the last quarter of a century I believe, so this is new territory for all of us, fans and players alike.
There is of course the classic wisdom in the game that a settled back four is always a better back four. Well clearly Azpi, Zouma, Tomori and Emerson have not been a back line that has tripped off Chelsea tongues often in the past, so that is going to take a little while. What they wouldn’t give to have Rudiger in there somewhere and Kante protecting just in front at the moment.I suspect one of the biggest problems is having and understanding game management, something that older pros like Jorginho take for granted but it is something that has to be learned over the months and years.It is a subtle art, knowing if and when you should slightly over cover when the opposition are in control for a while. When to help your mate out if he has a difficult 10 minutes, even if it means playing slightly out with your favourite position. That again goes back to N’Golo who seems to do that job instinctively as well anyone else I have ever seen in the game.
Frank knows all this. He and Jody and their team will be passing on this knowledge, which they each obviously had, but they know that it doesn’t all come overnight. One of the great things is that if you do have players who are willing to learn, which all these younger players are, then you have a chance.It also helps hugely if they have good football brains. It may shock you to know (or maybe it wouldn’t!) that not all pros do have that inherent football intelligence to anywhere near the level you would expect. The likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic however have plenty of the football grey stuff up top to allow them to learn quickly.Read: Abraham left with mixed emotionsIt is fabulous that Tammy is continuing his goal-scoring spree and doing it with different types of goals. Clearly he is no one-trick pony. He is getting the tap-ins and the fine strikes from distance but he is also getting the scruffy ones nicked from defensive mistakes. The last category is vital if you are going to get 20 in a season or more in the Premier League. Every top scorer will tell you the same thing; a 40-yard pile driver counts the same as a two-yard mishit as long as it goes over that line.
Talking of strikers, Michy Batshuayi made it off the bench for the final few minutes and there may have been real surprise around the ground when Billy Gilmour got the nod as well. Now those who follow Chelsea closely will know that the young Scotsman is very highly regarded at the club but those outside of Cobham and the 5th Stand bubble might be less educated. He will be and is already a very, very exciting talent; Chelsea fans will definitely see more of him in the coming years.Up in Scotland however his ability is not unknown. In fact there was much despair at Rangers and in Scotland generally when he was brought to Chelsea. There was a fear he could get lost in the huge churn of talent that is here and indeed the Premier League overall. I have lost count of the number of times when Scottish newspapers, radio stations and podcasters have asked me how I thought Billy was doing and how he would do in the longer term at Stamford Bridge. Most importantly, would he ever get a sniff of a first team game?I always explained ‘wisely’ that he is very young, there are top international players ahead of him but if he continues to work hard, in a few years’ time you just never know. Patience however will be vital for him. Well it is just a few weeks since the last time I said that and I have been proved totally wrong already.
It really goes to show just how much of a revolution there has been under Frank in such a short time, much more than I or any fan would have expected this early. It is not just the Chelsea fans who are behind this youth drive, people I know who were always quite anti-Chelsea are now saying, ‘Do you know what, I quite like Chelsea this season’. I didn’t see that one coming either.