Our columnist Pat Nevin was asked to watch the weekend game with an analytical eye, and was able to admire the aesthetic as much as the athletic quality of Chelsea’s display…
I think we can agree that rumours of Chelsea’s demise would appear to have been a trifle premature this season. It hasn’t been easy and there have been many ups and downs but the last week or so has been an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable experience most of the time.
I tend to find when I am asked on Match of The Day 2, either the Blues have a bad day or a difficult one at least. This weekend I could relax and purr at what was one of the most stylish 90 minutes of football I have seen anywhere this season.
Okay, I understand that it was ‘only’ West Ham and a pretty under-par Hammers team at that, but most of the reason for that was that they were scarcely given a kick of the ball for large parts of the game. It was nothing less than a travesty that the final score was a measly 2-0, that game had 5, 6 or even more stamped all over it. Being a bit of a purist I do love style and entertainment as highly as winning, and yes I know that makes me an oddball to some extent, but this satisfied or at least should have, everyone who supports our team, pragmatists and dreamers alike.
I will let you into a little secret, as I sat down to watch the game in the Match of The Day studios before it all started on Sunday; I said to the guys that I was going to keep a particular eye on Eden Hazard because he had been exceptional when he has been on the ball recently, and was threatening to have a stormer of a game pretty soon. Well this time he managed to get plenty of service in the right areas, he sailed past exceptional, waved at brilliant, and settled down at world class for just about the entire game.
I didn’t see the marks out of 10 in all the newspapers but if anyone gave him less than a nine I think they ought to have a look at the game again and have a rethink.
The link-up play between the Belgian and Juan Mata (who was also brilliant on Sunday) was continuous throughout and bordered on telepathic at times. We know that on his day Oscar is at the same level and as such it was impossible not to be reminded of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi on their day.
The thing about the Barcelona stars however is that they have done it at the highest level against the greatest players and teams for a sustained period of time. That is the benchmark, but wasn’t it great to see it for a while down at the Bridge by a team in blue. The signs were there against Manchester United last week and as such the players must know now what they are capable of.
I do not expect it every week just now, these are pretty early days for this side, but with the right management and patience I think the suspicions I have had since the start of the season could bear fruit in time, this could be the early days of another very special Chelsea team.
We could probably do without an international week at the moment because the confidence and belief must be so high in the group. As ever I just hope all the lads come back fully fit from their exertions for their countries again as the games come thick and fast on their return.
It would of course be remiss not to mention Frank Lampard and his latest milestone here. He continues to astonish and once more it is a pleasure to highlight his positive impact and not only with his goals. One of his through balls to Demba Ba in the first half is one of the best passes I have ever seen Lamps play. I will admit that I didn’t really think 40-yard through balls were his forte as it were, but maybe he has always had that in the locker he has just rarely been deep enough to use it because he is generally in the box trying to get on the end of things himself.
Another player I think deserves a special mention is Cesar Azpilicueta. Once again he didn’t put a foot wrong and even at his tender age he is very quickly beginning to look like a man who could soon have improved so much he could be undroppable, just as Ashley Cole has been.
On their return it will be four games in nine days, so squad management and rotation will be vital, which is a shame because I would love to see the group being allowed to gel together. That is all but impossible under such an oppressive schedule sadly. Of those four games, happily the Rubin Kazan one right in the middle is at home. Had that been away then a shadow squad would certainly have been necessary in one of the ties, probably that one. That would have been a shame as I do like the Europa League, but happily we still have a chance of progressing.
I don’t think the problem right now is with the ability of the squad, more that maybe all these vital games are coming too quickly too soon for this group. The experiences will however stand them in good stead, by next year they will be better prepared with that little bit more experience and guile.
Last week I asked if you could tell me when was the last time Chelsea played a Manchester club in a cup replay and what was the score? It was of course the FA quarter-final on March 10 1999 that ended Chelsea 0 Manchester United 2. We hope for the reverse score in the upcoming replay of course.Most managed to get that one right and the lucky randomly chosen winner who will receive a Munich Champions League final picture signed by one of the players is Gerry Garland, from Ardpatrick, Louth, Dundalk, Ireland.
This week to have a chance of winning a similar prize, could you tell me who did Frank Lampard score his first ever league goal against? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck and enjoy the short break.