Excited by recent events and additions, club legend Pat Nevin writes in this week’s column about the lift given at Liverpool by a couple of the performances but warns against ‘knee-jerk’ reactions…
Once again we have a little breather this season but this time it can definitely be used to our advantage. With a raft of young players coming in, it really is a chance for the manager to get to work on ideas he has and get the team looking ship shape.
It has been quite amazing how different the atmosphere is from the fanbase generally in the space of just a couple of weeks. It helped getting a win against Crystal Palace but travelling to Liverpool and coming back with a point, while arguably being the better side, underlines there has been a sudden move forward.
The Reds may not be at their best at the moment but there really did seem a change in the overall performance nonetheless, and the chances created just served to underline that.
Benoit bedding in
It was great to see yet another controlled display from Benoit Badiashile, making it two clean sheets in a row while playing alongside Thiago Silva. That return is not to be underestimated at this level for a young player who has just joined the team and indeed the league. Hopes are quietly growing that he could be yet another steadying influence in the heart of the defence, playing alongside arguably the most steadying influence on the planet.
There were other performances that seemed to bode well, such as Hakim Ziyech again lifting his game, but I wouldn’t sport with the intelligence of you, my readers, and ignore the fact that one player stole the show above everyone else.
We had got our first glimpse of Mykhailo Mudryk last week at the Bridge when he walked on the pitch to be presented to us at half-time, draped in his Ukrainian flag. Seven days ago I wrote the following on this page: ‘Having watched him in the flesh three times, the guy has gallons of talent to spare.’
Great chance of joining special list
I am not usually that effusive about a player, as I like to see how they adapt to the English game first, but I was as excited by the announcement of his signing as any other we have had over the past few years. Those 35 minutes against Liverpool gave a fairly good sketch of the masterpieces he is capable of producing for us as time goes by.
Many people have talked previously about his startling pace, and he is undoubtedly unusually fast, but even that wasn’t what stood out for me on the times I watched him previously. There are plenty of fast attackers out there, but it is the addition of his close control and vision while using that pace that is so uncommon.
Chelsea fans have probably seen enough already to know he will be a fabulous addition to the team, but I would stop short of the knee-jerk reaction of calling him the new Eden Hazard. It is understandable why people would think that, but it is also unfair.
Misha will be his own player. His skill set does differ a bit from Eden in a number of ways anyway, even with just the way he runs in behind defences at pace without the ball when Eden generally liked it passed to his feet most of the time. It shows that this is not a mirror image of our former hero.
On top of that, it is a huge pressure to put on any new young player, to compare him to a club legend. Eden was our talisman for years, among the best players on the planet for a long time and one of the most-loved players in our club's history, so it is a lot to live up to.
Being the new X, Y or Z is never really that helpful even if you can’t as a player say it too strongly. I remember coming to Chelsea and being labelled the new Charlie Cooke after a short while. Yes, we were both Scottish, seen as skilful, often played wide and ran with the ball at our feet, but we were very different players. I’ll admit it was a huge compliment to my 19-year-old self but I am not sure it was helpful, especially as I was trying to establish my own career. To be fair it was worse when I went to Everton and was labelled the new Trevor Steven, we were nothing like each other as players!
I will admit however that our new star has got a great chance of joining that list of beloved skilful smaller players at the club who went on to become Players of the Year. From Cookie, though Gianfranco Zola, Joe Cole, Juan Mata, Willian and Eden Hazard, they each had a special place in the hearts of our fans. If he joins that canon he will be worth every penny spent on him. Can I make it clear, I am not putting myself in that bracket, even if I did pick up a couple of Player of the Years!
Considering the excitement following the initial appearance of Joao Felix against Fulham on top of Mudryk, the mood of all Chelsea fans has been materially lifted in short order. None of us thinks that everything is sorted, and we are on course for a stratospheric flight up the table right away, but there is a clear belief that the change in direction looks at least very promising and almost certainly it will be exciting to watch.
As we look forward to those and other new signings bedding in, one thing not to forget is the effect it can have on others already at the club. There are two ways of reacting to new competition as a footballer. One is to throw in the towel and try to get a move, the other is to celebrate the influx of that talent and be determined to be part of it by upping your own game. The good players follow the latter path naturally and often suddenly improve.
There is a saying in the game - good players want to play with good players - and this is what we hope to see going forward. Who knows what will happen by the end of the season, or indeed even by the end of this week. It is hard to be sure about anything in football, especially during a transfer window. I will say however that I, for one, am very excited by some of the things happening over the past few weeks and cannot wait to see how it develops in the medium to long term. And I know I am not alone in that.