Pat Nevin: Catching the eye

With the current season heading towards its close, columnist Pat Nevin is turning his thoughts towards the next one and importantly, what others might be thinking…

 

There has been much chat about how different the Chelsea team might look next season and we all have different ideas of what should be done. Many of us probably have a good idea of certain areas we would like to change, though that makes little or no difference to the reality. I suspect no one will have a better idea, or set of ideas, about what is going to happen than Antonio Conte. The picture may well look very different indeed after the summer and a look at the weekend team shows just how things can change and how quickly, even without the input of the new manager.

I reckon for a variety of reasons there were seven of the first-choice starters from last season’s league-winning side who were not in the 11 that took to the field against Swansea on Saturday. Thibaut Courtois, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Willian and Nemanja Matic all missed out, while Kurt Zouma could quite comfortable be added to the roll call as well. It was pretty radical stuff and it didn’t produce the right result of course, even if the team did improve markedly after the break. A draw would probably have been a fair result on balance but it wasn’t to be, and most importantly, the defeat seems to have come close to drawing a line under our Europa League hopes for next season. 

"There is the chance to make yourself an integral part of the future plans and you have to take it."

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It will however have given the ‘manager in waiting’ the chance to look at some of the current depth in the squad as trust me, he will have studied the game on DVD already. He will now have a better idea of what he needs to add and from where he will need to source it.   

There will be rainforests worth of paper used for press speculation on what will happen over the next few months. Who will be bought, who will be sold and for how much? What will the style be, who suits that style and so on? Some of it will be prescient, some arrant nonsense but most will be no more than pure guess work. There will be ups and downs for some players as the remnants of the season play out, but the players have to keep fighting to impress. Matt Miazga had a superb game against Aston Villa but got substituted at half-time against Swansea. He is however young, and indeed very young for a centre-back. So he has to push on again just like everyone else. 


Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the other hand looked as influential as any Chelsea player over in Wales on Saturday. He found space brilliantly, was very unlucky not to score and consistently showed a willingness to win the ball, take it, create chances and get himself into the box. He looked fast, confident and totally unfazed by being asked to play the number 10 role in a Premier League side. Somehow he has to get the fitness levels up to where he not only lasts 90 minutes but is staying stronger than his opponents in the final quarter of the game. For any player obtaining that endurance takes hard work and a constant willingness to do the right things on and off the park, in and out of the training ground, every day of the week.

Most of us former players know the feeling of a new boss arriving. You feel the pressure, no one feels totally secure and there is a lot of uncertainty. It is however imperative to take it in a positive light. There is the chance to make yourself an integral part of the future plans and you have to take it. Every player must remember what has happened in the medium- to long-term past doesn’t count anymore, If you are not ready to battle for a place on those conditions then you probably shouldn’t be at the club anyway.

Further down the food chain there are opportunities and yet more triumphs for the youngsters in the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup will certainly alert the new manager. Even if the step up is a hard one and a rare one, each kid must try to be the one who breaks the mould. Managers may look reticent about using kids and promoting from within, but I have never met one who didn’t desperately want to do it. They just feel they have to be sure about the ability.

Antonio Conte has a big job on his hands shaping the first team squad the way he wants it, everyone knows this, and another area not to overlook is the number of Chelsea players on loan around the continent. He will want to know if there are any rough diamonds there he can turn into usable jewels. I am sure he will use every bit of information the coaches at the club have to give him about those players, but he will want to look closely himself as well.

I have heard it suggested that Chelsea’s position is not unlike Man United’s before Louis van Gaal arrived. Van Gaal had to concentrate on Holland at the World Cup and was allegedly too late to prepare correctly for the upcoming season. Antonio is with Italy right now but a quick look and listen to his attitudes, and particularly work ethic, tells me he will not ignore Chelsea completely until after Italy finish in France.

Last week in the quiz I asked which current Chelsea first team player was the youngest to make his full international debut. Many thought the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar or indeed Cesc Fabregas were possibilities, and they were good guesses all, but not correct. The right answer is actually Bertrand Traore who made his debut for Burkino Faso at the tender age of 15! Many did get that right but there can only be one winner and randomly chosen this week from the correct entries is Damilola Alawode.

To have a chance this week of winning a football signed by Eden Hazard, here is a very random question. Could you tell me which current or former Chelsea player has made the most appearances for Anzhi Makhachkala?

Answers as ever in the box below and good luck with that.