Premier League and Champions League football is back on the horizon for Chelsea and Blues legend Pat Nevin can spot some special fixtures ahead for Graham Potter. He is also singing the praises of how Chelsea Women went about their business at the weekend, having been at the game…
This is beginning to feel like the close season. I’ve started to get withdrawal symptoms from the lack of Chelsea men’s games. It is however going to be a case of famine then feast very soon. There were only three games in September, but there were one or two events that had to be coped with in the meantime.
Those three games were one win v West Ham, one draw v RB Salzburg and one loss against Dinamo Zagreb. October should be very different indeed with nine games squeezed in and the assurance of the proverbial baptism of fire for Graham Potter. Maybe the most important thing about those games apart from their rapidity, is the fact that six of the nine are away from home, never an easy run, whatever the competition or competitions. This is worth keeping in mind.
The Manchester United game should be one the manager will enjoy as much as any other. This will be his first game in charge when it is between two of the very top teams in the Premier League. He will not be phased of course having already faced United at Old Trafford this season and won 2-1 with Brighton, Pascal Gross getting the plaudits along with his manager while Erik ten Hag got a major reality check.
Even so, maybe it will be the match against Brighton down on the south coast at the end of October that will play on the head coach’s mind more than any other. There are plenty of heartless people in football, but Graham Potter isn’t one of them, so his return to the Amex Stadium will have a special place in his heart, whatever the reaction is from his former acolytes in the stands.
Throughout my career I hated playing against my former clubs, but only once was I given the bird. That wasn’t at Chelsea. Being actually applauded by a very large number of Chelsea fans when I scored against my beloved Blues while I was at Everton is still amongst the most moving moments of my career…strike that…among the most moving moments in my life. The one time I got a bit of stick was near the end of my career, when playing for Motherwell having just left Kilmarnock. It didn’t last, the Killie fans were unfailingly lovely to me by the time we next met. I think they wanted me to stay and that was fine.
I digress, our manager will have a stray thought or two about Brighton but in the meantime, maybe next Wednesday will be even harder to put to the back of his mind. If playing Manchester United is the real deal in England, then facing AC Milan is a game of huge historical significance at the top level in European football.
When you consider both clubs and their huge impacts in European football, it can only be described as a historical tie. To be fair, Milan’s real heydays were just coming to an end when our glorious 20 year rise to the top was just in its infancy. They won the Champions League in 2007, but haven’t been in the final since, while we got to the final the following season in 2008 in Moscow and then became regulars at the business end of the Champions League year after year following that.
As usual the manager will not say a word about any of these matches, and will only be willing to talk about Palace this weekend and that is the right way to be. He will however have to plan and that planning should be as intriguing as anything else in this coming month at the club. The planning will be as much in the players’ psyche as the team’s shape.
Even waiting for this weekend is getting to be a bit much for me, so I had to get my fix by going to a few games in the meantime. Currently I am in Krakow to catch Scotland play Ukraine in the 'away' Nations League decider, but watching Scotland against Ukraine at Hampden Park last week and Chelsea Women taking on Manchester City at Kingsmeadow on Sunday shouldn’t on the face of it had too much in common, but to be fair they did.
In both matches I was blown away by the work rate and spirit on show. Like a lot of football fans, I can watch a game with more limited players giving everything and love it, but then see a tie filled with top-flight players and if they are not putting in a shift and taking risks, I can be bored senseless.
Fortunately, with Scotland and Chelsea Women, it was top-quality players and brilliant levels of endeavour at the same time. I could go on at length about the tactical and technical brilliance of both managers, Emma Hayes and Stevie Clarke are exceptional in those areas, but it is the group ethic they inspire that really lifts me.
There was a moment against City when a ball was played forward towards Sam Kerr, but it was a poor pass left well behind her so the chance was gone, and she couldn’t get the ball. The vast majority of strikers would either just accept the moment, but many more would be complaining about the poor ball. Not Sam.
She turned and sprinted after the ball even though it wasn’t her place to do so. She wanted to get her mate out of a hole, so forgot about herself and was committed to the team. It was an object lesson on how any footballer at any level should behave. That is why her team are champions and why City couldn’t live with them on the day.
Okay, so Erin Cuthbert and the rest of the team would all do the same kind of work, but that is because they all show the right spirit almost all the time. I suspect that ethos is the first thing that Graham Potter will want to see when he moulds the first team this month and, in the months to come. I suspect there will be ups and downs, that’s just the way football is. But if the work rate is there the manager will be happy enough. Just as importantly so will the supporters as we watch the new brand being built.