In today’s column from Chelsea legend Pat Nevin he anticipates an open game on Chelsea’s return to the Champions League tonight and about the bravery shown by our boss in the way he went about the Wolves win…
I bet a few people were surprised by the score line at Molineux at the weekend. I know I was for starters. Wolves are a tidy team; they have a well-organized defensive system that is generally drilled to perfection and they were arguably favourites going into the game. To get thumped by a bunch of fives at home left them and their fans looking punch drunk.In fact every result so far for Chelsea has been a surprise in some way, though not always a pleasant one. The Sheffield United draw was painful as was losing four at Manchester United, but to score eight in the two away games at Norwich and Wolves was just glorious.Before the start of the season I said to everyone who would listen that Chelsea could well be the most interesting, the most surprising but also the most entertaining team to watch in the Premier League. It is looking very much like that right now and the statistics bear it out. Considering our recent history under managers who loved their mean defences, they would be shocked to see that Chelsea this season have already given away 11 goals in just five games, that is the second most in the entire league after Norwich with 12! The thing is, that can happen if you play such open, high-tempo football and you have a young team who are learning, even if they are learning very fast.
The positive flip side of course is that we are third top scorers in the league after Man City and Liverpool, this time scoring 11. They are by a distance the most extreme goal statistics in the league, underlining just how exciting it has been. In fact only Man City fans have watched more goals in their side’s matches, 23 to our 22, a measly one more for the reigning champions. Frank will be working hard to reduce the slippage at the back and I am sure it is not making Kepa particularly happy, but as long as we keep scoring it will be fun.
They are an open, attack-minded team as well that generally favours a positive 4-4-2. The 7-3 aggregate defeat to Arsenal last season in the Europa League semi-final and this weekend’s 5-2 loss at Barcelona suggests Valencia’s former manager and the new one might have similar outlooks.The top European competition is however another big step up for the youngsters in particular, but they have been making remarkably huge strides already. Everyone is now aware that all of Chelsea goals so far have this season in the league have been scored by English lads from our Academy, all of whom are still Under-21s. You wouldn’t put it past them now to make the mountain that is the Champions League group stage look like a gentle slope. They are utterly fearless and rightly so.
We also have fearless Frank whose bravery is still amazing me. The change of system against Wolves was in retrospect a master stroke and one that would have surprised his opposite number, Nuno Espirito Santo. When you prepare for one system and a totally different one walks out, you must decide whether or not you should change. The home team rarely does in that situation and Wolves paid the price for not adapting.There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a settled, even rigid system. It works for Liverpool and it worked for us often enough in the past, but I have always had a preference for agile adaptable teams and styles. In international football it would be almost laughable not to be ready to change your shape if needed, maybe even during games and maybe even more than once during the game. This weekend even Brighton did just that and it had a positive effect.It seems odd maybe but Frank’s willingness to change systems reminds me a bit of Jose Mourinho at his very best. He would always be on the lookout for the opposition weakness and when he spotted it he would move his players to make use of that frailty. This is one of the things that Frank has done very well and the player he has used most often to do it so far is Mason Mount.Like Frank himself, Mason can play in several positions very comfortably and happily adapts his game to suit the situation. Even this early in his Chelsea career it would be faintly ridiculous to suggest that Frank doesn’t see at least a bit of himself in his young charge and because of that he can get the best from him, he knows his capabilities. It seems strange but one of the biggest problems for some players is not having a manager actually knowing how good you are in some situations and how capable you are of reading the game. Frank knows better than anyone what Mason can see and do. I expect he could be pivotal once more tonight.
It is a great week to be a Chelsea fan, however you look at it. Five goals away from home at the weekend, sitting nicely in joint third place in the Premier League, Champions League football again at last, Liverpool at the weekend to look forward to and a young fearless side to get behind. Sit back and enjoy if you can but you probably will not be able to, because this Chelsea team has a habit of keeping you on the edge of your seat!
- There is more from Pat Nevin in tonight's Matchday Programme on sale at Stamford Bridge