GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Columnist Giles Smith returns, facing a few weeks that are all about concentration – for both the players in this stop-start period, and for fans like him as well…

One of the great old adages of football, which I’ve just made up, is ‘win the games that matter and never mind the rest.’It has done the heart good to see the team so far following that canny and time-honoured piece of wisdom to the letter in 2012/13.

Three victories in the league games against Wigan, Reading and Newcastle; and two mildly surprising but ultimately negligible defeats, in the Community Shield and the Super Cup – none of us, surely, would have had it any other way. Or none of us, certainly, would have had it the other way around.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been nice, in a casual, not-doing-anything-else-on-a-Friday-night kind of way, to win the Super Cup the other evening. And even lifting the Community Shield, all those weeks ago, might have raised a smile.

At the same time, one has always thought there was something slightly vulgar about those events where they give you a trophy for winning one match. It feels unearned, in a way, and the natural sense of decorum that one inevitably has, as a Chelsea fan, along with the intimate knowledge that one has gained, over the years, of what it really takes, in terms of graft over the longer term, to win genuinely important trophies, reacts against it. I’m sure something like that will have been going on in the minds of the players, too. It’s only human.

By performing well when it matters, on the other hand, we have ascended to the top of the Premier League and, oddly, are one of only two teams left in the league with a 100 percent record, the other being Sunderland who (like Reading) have only played twice.

Meanwhile ostensible rivals for top four positions have been variously dropping points in surprising places, failing to score for hours on end, flapping about in panicked and unsuccessful attempts to secure strikers on the final day of the transfer window and coming from behind to produce streaky 3-2 victories over relatively humble opposition. So far, the ‘winning when it matters’ stratagem, seems to be genuinely paying off.

It was less than fortunate that the suspension of proper football caused by the Super Cup ran straight into the now ritual period of finger-drumming induced by the September international week. The short-term effect of this diary collision will be to produce a situation wherein, as far as Chelsea are concerned, three weeks will have gone by between one league game and the next.

Three weeks! You could hold an entire Paralympics in that time. Indeed, some people appear to be doing just that.

Incredible to think that the last time our players saw meaningful action, Kenneth Clarke was still Justice Secretary, MC Harvey and Julie Goodyear had yet to enter the Celebrity Big Brother house and the new series of Dr Who hadn’t even started. What a different place Britain was in those days.

Clarke

Inevitably, people are worrying about what a big break like this is likely to do to the team’s focus and momentum. For example, Queen’s Park Rangers are next up for us in the league, and, given a gap like we are just experiencing, how many of our players will even remember that QPR are still in the Premier League?

The fact is, though, that disruption is going to be the theme of the first half of this season, whether we like it or not. With another international weekend to come in October and with the Club World Cup taking out a weekend in December, we might as well regard it as useful training in the recovery of concentration. And if we keep winning when it matters and disregarding the rest we should be all right.

As is completely traditional, the draw for the third round of the League Cup handed us a home tie, and I don’t suppose any of us are complaining, an extra night game at the Bridge in early autumn being one of life’s great pleasures, even if it goes to extra time and penalties.

This season’s added challenge, of course, for which bonus points are available, is to stop referring accidentally to the competition as ‘the Carling’ and to start giving it its new title, the Capital One Cup, in honour of the trophy’s latest sponsors. It’s going to be tough in the early stages, there’s no question about that, but I’m backing myself to put the work in, muster the necessary concentration and, by careful and steady application, to get there eventually – certainly in time for the quarter finals, should our interest extend that far.

Unlike the gift of a home tie in round three, the arrival of a credit card company in the sponsorship role really does represent a break with tradition. For a quarter of a century, England’s second oldest professional club knock-out cup competition has had strongly liquid associations: with the exception of the Rumbelows and Littlewoods periods, the cup has gone hand-in-hand in our minds with Coca Cola, two different types of beer and, of course, back in the day, milk.

But, again, we’ll get used to it. Right now, I can’t see the phrase ‘Capital One Cup’ without thinking of a London-only five-a-side tournament – probably at Wembley Arena and featuring a guest appearance by Rodney Marsh. But it all comes down to familiarity in the end, and no doubt we’ll all be comfortable enough with the title eventually to adopt an abbreviation for conversational use – ‘the Capital’ most likely. ‘The One’ is also an option, obviously, although it may sound a slightly wrong note about the position of the competition among the season’s priorities.

BLUES SET SIGHTS ON BRAZIL

There is likely to be no shortage of Chelsea players in action when England and Belgium begin their respective World Cup qualifiers on Friday evening.

Ahead of those games, Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard are hoping a winning start to their club’s domestic league campaign stands them in good stead to represent their nations well.

Cahill is one of five Blues in the England party travelling to Moldova today, with Ashley Cole possibly recovering from an ankle injury in time for a meeting with Ukraine on Tuesday at Wembley.

The central defender has his own fresh memories of missing England games having been ruled out of Euro 2012 with a broken jaw, suffered in a match against the Belgians, but he returned to the international fold for last month’s friendly victory against Italy when he was partnered for the first hour by Everton’s Phil Jagielka, and then by Man City’s Joleon Lescott.

John Terry, not included in that experimental squad, has recovered from the neck injury that ruled him out of Chelsea’s last league game, increasing Roy Hodgson’s selection possibilities in central defence.

‘It is great to be back involved and now I have the battle to squeeze in the team,’ said Cahill on his England call-up.

‘We have two games coming up now and I am sure whoever is selected will do a good job. It is helpful that John and I know each other’s game and it seems to have gone reasonably well when we have played together for club and country, but I thought Joleon had a great Euros and Phil Jagielka has come in and scored against Italy this season.

‘The competition is strong and that is only healthy. There is a good spirit in the team, great belief and confidence and fresh players such as Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand, and [Man United midfielder] Tom Cleverley have come in which is also great.’

The August international friendlies may have come too early in the season for many people’s likings but mid-September is a more traditional time for players to be asked to perform for their countries.

‘The lads have all played a few games at the start of the season so everyone is fit and ready to go,’ Cahill said.

‘We started really well at Chelsea, the new players have settled in and their performances on the pitch have proved that.

‘The game in Monaco is behind us now and we are coming into these international games with confidence.’

One of the new players Cahill referred to is Hazard who faces a match in Wales on Friday.

‘It is said Belgium has a great generation, it is now up to us to prove it on the pitch by winning matches and qualifying for the 2014 World Cup,’ said the attacking midfielder who admits he needs to replicate club form more often on the international stage.

‘I know it must be better, but I’m only 21 and still have much to learn. Success will come.’

STILL TIME TO CAST YOUR VOTE

Over 7,000 fans have already voted in our Online Charity Poll but there’s still plenty of time to have your say if you haven’t picked your medical charity.

Chelsea was overwhelmed by the response from charities eager to hold bucket collections at Stamford Bridge. Since the poll started, fans have shown huge support for the online polls as they’ve chosen which charity they’d like to see collecting at the Bridge.

But there’s still plenty of time for anyone who hasn’t yet cast their vote to do so. The poll will remain open until 5pm on Monday 10 September, so get voting if you haven’t already done so.

There are two online polls taking place, one through the Chelsea FC Foundation website and the other through Facebook.

There are five available matchdays for bucket collections, so the charities have been broken down into five separate categories. The current poll is for medical charities.

For your chance to vote which charity you’d like to see collecting at Stamford Bridge, click here. Once you’ve made your decision, simply fill-in your details and click ‘Enter Vote’.

LONG-TERM DEAL FOR BERTRAND

Ryan Bertrand has committed his future to Chelsea today (Wednesday) as he signed a five-year contract.

The 23-year-old England international will now continue preparations with the national squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine, before returning to Chelsea where he has already started two of our three league games this season.

Bertrand originally joined the Chelsea Academy in July 2005 from Gillingham and impressed sufficiently to be part of the first team’s pre-season tour to America a year later. Having played for our youth and reserve teams, a period of loan moves followed when he gained vital first team experience. Bournemouth, Oldham, Norwich, Reading and Nottingham Forest were ports of call and he amassed over 150 appearances at Championship level prior to making his Chelsea debut as a substitute versus Birmingham in April 2011.

As understudy to Ashley Cole last season, he played 15 games although it was directly in front of Cole on the pitch in Munich that the last and most significant of those appearances was made. Making his European debut, Bertrand took on a wide-midfield role in the Champions League Final, reverting to a position he had played in his youth.

Having been selected for England through the youth age groups, and for the GB side at the London 2012 Olympics, Bertrand made his senior England debut in a friendly against Italy last month.

He has made 15 starts for Chelsea with a further four substitute appearances.

TORRES GUNNING FOR MORE SUCCESS IN NEW MAG

The latest edition of Chelsea features an interview with Fernando Torres in which the striker stresses his desire to add to what is becoming an ever-expanding medal collection.

Life, at the moment, is pretty sweet for Torres. Two goals in his opening three league games have helped propel the Blues to the top of the Premier League table with the only 100 per cent record, and after ending what was a mixed 2011/12 campaign in the most memorable fashion – both for club and country – he is desperate to repay the support he has been given by the Stamford Bridge faithful.

‘When you play for Chelsea, you have the chance to win trophies and this was one of the main reasons why I came here,’ he tells the club’s official magazine.

‘In my first full season, we got two trophies, which is the thing I was looking for when I came, but now I have more objectives, more personal targets, and this season is very important for me.

‘No one thought Spain would be world champions and European champions twice – I never even dreamed that would happen.

‘Next year, we go to the Confederations Cup and I haven’t won that competition, so I want to. When you win, you just want to do it more and more and more.’

Torres in new mag

With Didier Drogba now departed, Torres, thus far this campaign, has been the focal point of our attack, supported ably by technically-sound playmakers Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.

With the club investing heavily over the summer, focusing largely on strengthening our options in creative and wide areas, the early signs are that we can expect a more expansive Chelsea side in the months ahead.

Strikers, however, rightly or wrongly, are defined by their goalscoring exploits, and Torres is aware that regardless of how much work he does outside the penalty area, hitting the back of the net on a regular basis is ultimately all that matters.

‘Didier [Drogba] is not here anymore, so there is more responsibility for me and I’m ready for the challenge,’ he says. ‘Hopefully, everything is going to be okay and we will work hard.

‘Now, I am looking for new personal targets, which is to get as many goals as possible and, hopefully, I will score more than I did in my best season at Liverpool.

Torres walked away from the European Championships with the Golden Boot award as Spain clinched their third successive major trophy but, in truth, it was an unusual campaign, with their manager’s preference for playing without a recognised striker at various points coming in for plenty of comment.

Thankfully, there are no such worries back in west London, and Torres believes his job has been made much easier with the acquisition of players with the ability to drift between the lines and find the killer pass.

‘I like players who can find the space behind the defenders, who can find a small gap to pass the ball and put me in front of the goalkeeper,’ explains the 28-year-old.

‘Juan Mata is very easy to play alongside because he has these qualities, where he finds the space behind the defender.

‘We have scored a lot of goals thanks to these kinds of passes from him. We have him, plus Eden Hazard plays there and Oscar as well.

‘For me, it’s the most important position for the team. The No.10, or second striker, is the one who is going to make the difference, the one who is going to finish the game or change it by giving an assist or scoring a goal.

‘All the great teams have a quality No.10 and we have two or three this season, so we have to exploit that.’

Cech them out
Elsewhere in the magazine, Petr Cech reveals the coaches, players and managers who have helped shape his career in ‘Football Men’, including the current Chelsea goalkeeping coach, a former Stamford Bridge favourite and the man who gave him his first taste of life between the posts when he was only eight-years-old.

Stuart’s life in Blue
Graham Stuart enjoyed a decent career at Stamford Bridge, and while he scored a number of memorable goals for the club, the midfielder will always be remembered for a wonderful solo strike up at Sheffield Wednesday. Here, he opens up about a debut strike against Crystal Palace, the reasons behind his eventual departure and the late Sir Bobby Robson’s role in the earning of his nickname.

Graham Stuart in new mag

Marking territory
Mark Foster, the former Olympic swimmer, who worked as a television pundit during the Olympic Games, is a massive Chelsea supporter. In this month’s ‘One of Us’, he takes a look back at a pivotal match in last season’s Champions League run, as well as recalling his confidence when Didier Drogba stepped up to take the decisive penalty in Munich.

American memories
As always, our pre-season tour of the US gave players, management and fans the opportunity to interact with our ever-increasing band of supporters stateside over the course of an exciting, albeit hectic, two-week period.

‘Rocky and Becks’ looks back at the tour through the eyes of Chelsea TV presenter Gigi Salmon and defender Ashley Cole, who recalls an enjoyable meeting with two former Premier League legends, as well as the benefits of enjoying a relatively low profile across the pond.

US tour in new mag

Slaying foxes
While younger supporters may struggle to recall a time when the Blues weren’t competing regularly for every major trophy, for the older generation, it hasn’t always been that way.

The 1960s was a period in the club’s history when success, on the whole, proved elusive, aside from a League Cup triumph over Leicester City in 1965.

‘The Final Countdown’ casts an eye back at those matches with the help of newspaper cuttings, action images and contributions from some of the key players, including opening goalscorer, Bobby Tambling.

The latest edition of Chelsea is on sale now, priced £3.25 and available from all good newsagents and the Megastore.