As he counts the number of games in the month ahead after the current international break, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin sees the crowded programme providing opportunities…
It feels like a time to breath out, and maybe sigh a little while doing so. It also seems like a time to look ahead as well as remembering not to forget the past and its importance.
Everything will be back to going at 100mph again soon enough, after what has been a period for everyone to contemplate, as well as some of us having a little break from the football.
For our new head coach Graham Potter, this gap between games against RB Salzburg and Crystal Palace sounds like a great opportunity for him to get his teeth into the important work.
Unfortunately, he will not be able to use all of those days to get inside the players’ heads as the international fixtures will rob him of a good number of crucial players at training. England alone will be facing Germany and Italy, which should keep a few of our lads occupied, but as ever there will be internationals all over the planet that will be testing our squad.
It was clear from his first game in charge against Salzburg in the Champions League that there is a lot of information to be shared by the new coach. The system was an adaptation from what we had previously used, but Graham will be utilising more than that one system, as well as delivering quite a few novel ideas, so the players will have to get used to it and learn quickly.
Why being busy might help
When the Premier League starts up again it is among the most incessant periods the players will have had, with nine matches in October alone. Unless they try to squeeze in another by rescheduling either the Fulham and Liverpool games there too! That doesn’t sound sensible, but those matches could be a tough one to find a date for later, especially the Liverpool one if both sides have good European and domestic cup runs. The World Cup in Qatar feels like it has concertina-ed everything, but let’s just hope there are no more unforeseen circumstances that affect games being played.
In times gone by, the league would already be panicking about the possible effect of a harsh winter, but these days that seems less of a worry with undersoil heating and better pitch management, but even so, wind, snow and storms can still have an effect. Without becoming a total doom merchant, I think we all know that it is going to be a very busy season.
This might actually help Chelsea this time as we have a decent-sized squad with good depth of quality. Having all these games so close will allow the manager the opportunity to fully understood and integrate the players. I well recall Conor Gallagher being sent out on loan to Crystal Palace after one single short pre-season appearance on the south coast (Bournemouth), while playing out of position. It wasn’t enough time to get to know him and his abilities, but the manager back then didn’t have enough time to check everyone out.
This term, and indeed this coming month of October, will give the new head coach time to really see who does and doesn’t fit into the Potter plan.
Even a quick look at who didn’t start against Salzburg shows the impressive options of what is and what will become, available. This isn’t a bad team…
Mendy; Fofana, Chalobah, Koulibaly; Ziyech, Loftus-Cheek, Kante, Chilwell; Pulisic, Gallagher; Broja.
On top of this, Denis Zakaria and Carney Chukwuemeka are players who could have a notable impact in their first season. Among others, they would still make it a strong bench for this alternative team.
So these upcoming games will have plenty of changes, in systems and in personnel, but a crash course in the players’ capabilities maybe isn’t a bad thing right now, as every other squad in the league will also be under some pressure.
Understanding the importance of understandings
Among the most important things will be to see what kind of alchemy the manager can come up with and which players will link best with the others. Certainly there has been a good link-up between Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Reece James in recent times, but the understanding between Reece and Mason Mount has arguably been even better than that when they have been together.
Getting players to ‘click’ together is one of the first things a holistic coach is looking for. You can see just how effective it can be in the Premier league when two players think as one. Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, or Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane are just the most obvious examples but there are plenty of others out there.
Getting to watch these understandings is a joy. When Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho are in sync, they dominate the midfield because they know each other’s play and movement so well and implicitly trust in each other’s ability.
Over the years there have been plenty of centre-back partnerships, and these days triumvirates, that have developed that almost telepathic level of understanding. Thiago Silva had it with Toni Rudiger even if they were totally different types of defenders. Thiago can do that with anyone right enough. He is that intelligent and that good, but these partnerships have to be built all over the pitch and they have to be worked on.
As a wide player I had great understandings with a host of full-backs throughout my career, none better than with Stevie Clarke in my time at Stamford Bridge. I also had phenomenal understandings on the field with players up front too, with the likes of Kerry Dixon and David Speedie. To be honest, these attacking links are the ones that are much harder to manufacture.
If we can get those forward link-ups improved at Chelsea, then the season will be an altogether more enjoyable and successful one.
Graham Potter can see the quality at his disposal and probably can’t wait to try fitting those pieces together. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Armando Broja, Mason Mount, Conor Gallagher and potentially others as well. The answer and the understanding is in there somewhere, it is just a case of finding it and then working on it.