Fresh from his studio analysis of Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin gives his written assessment of a narrow defeat and hopes for a less-injured squad soon…
It isn’t often that you lose two home games in a row at Chelsea and still feel oddly positive. For the second time this season we went toe-to-toe with Liverpool, the European champions and Premier League leaders, and yet again we didn’t not look far away from their standard. There were a few pivotal moments in the game that decided the points and they underlined how tight this league is.
Certainly the fouls given for their two goals were avoidable. For the first Andreas Christensen just had to stay on his feet instead of going for a ball he couldn’t get. The second free-kick that led to the Firmino’s goal could have been avoided had the referee invested in an adequate pair of glasses. It was never a foul and every Chelsea fan in the ground let him know it, but to no avail. It was disappointing to see us lose another goal from a set-piece cross, especially as it was them taking advantage of our static zonal marking. Didn’t we used to regularly do that to them?
The figures for possession and shots at goal, 13-6 for us, was another argument in favour of how unlucky we were. Maybe the most obvious and painful moment was the goal by Cesar Azpilicueta which was disallowed (albeit chalked off correctly) after VAR scrolled back about 10 minutes to find a problem. Oh, alright I exaggerate a bit, but it was a long way back that Mason Mount’s boot was inadvertently offside.
There was also another moment that was painful to watch. When Tammy was through on goal, in retrospect he should have cut it across to Mason Mount for an easy tap-in. Usually I would be angry with the player who didn’t pass in those circumstances, even if he is a centre-forward, but Tammy has been on fire of late and probably hadn’t even considered the possibility of not scoring. It is very strange, I was having a laugh with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink this week on the analysis for Chelsea TV, about him doing exactly the same thing! Jimmy half apologised but didn’t need to, he scored on the clip we were looking at.
Mason was understandably miffed for a moment, because he knew that he should have got the pass and another goal added to his tally. That might have changed the nature of the game and possibly even the final result. He also knows that strikers do not always think the way the rest of us do. Jimmy, a classic striker, was probably pleased Tammy showed that single-mindedness and hunger to try to score himself instead of teeing up Mason.
Mason has been quite astonishing in his ability to get into goal-scoring positions already this season. With a bit more vision from one or two others he could have had at least six or seven so far. That will happen in time as everyone gets to know his capabilities and spots his runs.
It was obviously great to see N’Golo Kante back and at his best against Liverpool. It is sometimes easy to forget that even though we are all aware of the limitations placed on Frank due to the transfer ban and how impressed we have been with his coping strategies, he has been without hugely important players for most of the season so far.
N’Golo and Toni Rudiger would have been handy to call on obviously but when you add Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, it just underlines how harsh it has been. Look at Liverpool for example, they seem to go close to season after season with scarcely a long-term injury to any of their recognised starting 11 players.
The analogy would be if you took Liverpool’s best defender Van Dijk out of the team the way Rudiger has missed the start with us, and then removed their world-class player Mo Salah like we have had to do without Kante. What sort of difference do you think it would make to their team? I just cannot wait until Frank has every single one of his top players fit, available and on form and I bet he can’t too.
It did seem particularly unfair after the recent injuries that we also managed to lose half of the back line before half-time, against one of the most potent strike forces in world football. They coped pretty well even so, with only the Firmino goal lapse being a real let-down for the defensive group.
Happily one player in that back line who hasn’t missed much football in his time here is Kepa and once again at the weekend he was in fine shot-stopping form. Some of his saves against Liverpool were world-class. Even though we have shipped 13 league goals already this season in the league, few have been even partially attributable to the goalie. He will not enjoy losing that number of goals but although those bald statistics suggest he is the third-worst keeper in the league right now, I think he is on as good form as any other number one in England.
He will want to carry on that form in the two home games coming up in quick succession. It is quite an amazing thing to listen to the positive noises coming from the Chelsea fans even though it was another home defeat this week.
Grimsby Town and maybe more importantly Brighton are games we really would expect to win. Brighton have been tidy but have struggled to score enough goals this season after their first day three-goal mauling of Watford. Since then they have averaged a goal every four-and-a-half hours, so this could be our chance.
It has been eight competitive games now this season and a first clean sheet would be celebrated more than anything else from either of these ties. The defence would like it, the keeper would love it and the boss would be on cloud nine. We wouldn’t mind it either.
Read: Key Stats from Chelsea v Liverpool