Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin was present to witness a frustrating evening unfold at the Bridge last night, but rather than drown his sorrows he is already looking forward to Saturday’s London derby, and hopefully a bit more luck…
There was more pain to be endured against Manchester United on Monday night in more ways than one. Without claiming to be brilliant, I think it was a good solid performance in many areas in a game that could have easily gone either way.
There was pain in the fact that yet again at home we had the lion’s share of possession and nothing to show for it in the end. There was the agony of losing out on all the close calls when VAR was involved. Harry Maguire could easily have been shown a red card, Azpi was unlucky to be penalised for Kurt Zouma’s disallowed goal after he was shoved first, and if Olivier Giroud had size eight boots instead of size 10s, his goal might have stood too.
The pain is also physical at the moment, just when we really don’t need it. With a run of huge games against huge clubs we have an injured topscorer, who hopefully will be back at the weekend; N’Golo Kante, one of the best midfielders in the world, was crocked in the first few minutes; Christian Pulisic, one of our biggest signings, and only recent signing, out injured; Andreas Christensen getting his nose spread half way across his face, just in time for United to score their opener; and this before you even get to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It is torture!
In short, you don’t have to look too far at Stamford Bridge to find agony at the moment. I was just surprised Frank didn’t stub his toe as he came on to our show with Jason, Ben and me last night (below)! Had he injured himself he wouldn’t have bleated about it, because that isn’t Frank’s way. These periods happen in football, and you not only have to deal with it stoically you have to find some answers.
I liked the tactical switch at half-time when we changed from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, allowing Mason Mount to play further forward. We looked more dangerous, he got into great positions but the ball sadly didn’t fall to him and of course we did have the ball in the net twice in that period even if they didn’t count. There were players getting closer to Michy Batshuayi in the second half, which is what he needed. He was one against three much of the time in the first half which is tough, even though he still managed to get himself into good positions for chances.
That tactical move showed that we are seeking answers for this problem of not scoring enough at home and not making capital when we have most of the possession. I suspect Olivier Giroud has done his cause no harm at all. When he came on, his hold-up and link-up play was top drawer.
It does beg a couple of questions, however. What will the team be on Saturday and what shape will Frank plump for? These will be huge decisions. The last time Frank faced Jose he had a tactical brainwave by switching successfully and unexpectedly to a 3-4-3. There will be many ideas going through his head and trying this system again will be one of them.
With Marcus Alonso fit, rested and a specialist in that formation it could work. He also has Reece James, whose game seems made for the same position on the right-hand side of that middle four. Considering the goal shipped from a dead ball against United, having three centre-backs on the field and the height of Marcus in there too, it will definitely be a temptation.
Even if Andreas Christensen isn’t fit after his facial injury, there is still Rudiger, Tomori, Zouma and of course Azpilicueta available to play in a back three. There are plenty of injuries but at least we have cover back there at the moment.
I mention Azpi as one of those ‘centre-backs’ because he is perfectly comfortable in that position and is much better in the air than many people give him credit for. There was a goal-saving header when Kurt Zouma was beaten by Harry Maguire on Monday in the second half, and remember it was our Dave that caused chaos in the United backline from the corner that Zouma ‘scored’ from. He really has become a danger going forward, something I have being going on about for the last couple of months.
For all the problems that Frank has to deal with at the moment there were players on the bench that have the ability to walk into the team and do a very decent job. Frank’s frankness and honesty with the likes of Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud has paid dividends. Those players who have been used less have come on when asked and shown a perfect attitude.
It should of course be taken as read that players would do that, after all they are being paid to do the job and they should have a respect for the club, the fans and themselves. It isn’t always the case when players have not been starting however - bottom lips sometimes protrude!
It is no time for sulking from anyone just now. Tough times mean everyone sticking together. It was noticeable there were a few groans at the start of the second half on Monday night when a few passes went astray. What was pleasing is that just as few minutes later the Chelsea faithful realised that the team needed their support and they started singing positively again. The home results have been well below par and sometimes it is a lot to ask, but talking to Frank after the game he did underline the importance of the fans getting behind the team when the chips are down.
This will be vital on Saturday, but then again, in front of Spurs supporters the Chelsea fans rarely if ever let them see us turn on our own. A united front, a bit of luck and a decision or two going our way for a change, and things could look much rosier by 3pm on Saturday.