PAT NEVIN: ON THE BALL

Few are better placed to discuss new Chelsea players who like the ball at their feet than our former wing wizard Pat Nevin. He does so in his latest column…

The Blues’ new system and style got into gear pretty quickly at start of the league campaign on Sunday. Six short minutes and two goals certainly made a fairly comfortable afternoon up at Wigan.

Last week I was suggesting it would take a little while for Eden Hazard to settle into the English game after a ropey start against Man City, but making a goal and winning the penalty will have boosted his confidence no end and as such his particular settling-in period may just have been reduced considerably.

It was also great to see Oscar coming on for the Belgian, looking fit and lively. He will of course have to be managed after a summer of Olympic football in the yellow and blue of Brazil.

Let’s hope he isn’t covered in black and blue as the season goes on, he will have noticed that Eden got what is euphemistically known as ‘an early welcome’ to the Premier League by at least three Wigan players. Now Wigan aren’t a particularly dirty team, quite the reverse in fact, but there is no doubt that some of Chelsea’s new boys will have to get used to the more abrasive style of football that some of England’s teams promote.

It is a particular problem of the system that the Blues have now adopted in that the three in the 4-2-3-1 will usually be skilful players who attract attention on their own. Add the fact that they are all trying to play in between the lines of the opposition (i.e. between their defence and midfield), they will often receive the ball on the turn. This is the best time for defenders to make the kind of tackle that takes the ball and the man with some force.

Wigan tried it on Hazard on Sunday and it succeeded when Caldwell wiped him out (as can be seen in the video above) but it failed massively in the lead-up to the first goal when he wriggled free and set up Branislav Ivanovic.

People often talk about brave players, the ones who crunch into hard tackles á la Roy Keane and his ilk, but there is a special type of bravery needed to continually want the ball in areas where you know you are in danger of being thumped from an opponent every time. It struck me that our lads had the bravery and belief at the weekend; I hope it isn’t kicked out of them!

Actually I do not think they will wilt. Hazard’s reaction to getting kicked was to get on the ball again quickly and show he wasn’t intimidated. I spent nearly 20 years doing just that, if you show any fear you have lost, whereas confidence and a willingness to go at the player again is the most intimidating thing you can do to them.

Those of a certain age will remember Stuart Pearce playing for Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. He was a strong intimidating player but not only did I get up uncomplaining when he went through me, I demanded the ball was passed to me straight from the free kick and then ran directly towards him with it, wherever he was.

In fact I had a further little ploy to underline I wasn’t intimidated. When John Neal was manager at Chelsea I asked him if I could start each game against Pearce’s team on the left wing, then two minutes into the match I would shout over to the bench (all pre-planned of course) and demand to play on the right up against the England left-back, suggesting that I thought he was the easier defender to face. I don’t think Psycho, as he became known, liked that very much and I got the usual lunging response anyway.

Nevin

Back to the present day and indeed the future, something else sprang out at me while watching Oscar and Hazard – boy they are quick!

Maybe this is an area where Chelsea were less well -served than a number of other sides last season. With Juan Mata, Mikel, Meireles and Frank, there wasn’t exactly a surplus of blistering pace from midfield. Frank makes up for this with the timing and the power of his runs but he isn’t exactly Mo Farrah. Granted Ramires does remind you of our Mo with his incredible running ability, but now we could have Ramires, Oscar and Hazard in the team at the same time, that is a lot of pace not to mention the outstanding world-class ability.

With possibly one or two more additions on the near horizon, the plan seems to be taking shape but tomorrow night’s challenge will once again throw up a new set of problems. Reading may be the new boys but they will fight for everything.

When you are promoted you look forward to and dream about the glamour ties. Wouldn’t it be great to be on the telly scoring the winner against one of the top clubs on the planet? Well they will all be trying to make that dream come true at the Bridge, home of the European champions.

Actually I really like writing that phrase, ‘home of the European champions’. I like saying it as well, particularly when I am on TV or radio here in the UK. Maybe I am being a bit touchy, but now that I think about it I am not sure Chelsea have got the credit they deserve for being European champions (oops I wrote it again).

I have heard much more about Man City and their winning of the domestic league, while the events of the last game of the season are scarcely noted in some areas of the media. Maybe I am being paranoid and maybe we will get big licks as soon as the Champions League – of which we are the reigning champions – starts up again for real.

Well the quiz is back and thanks for all of you who got in touch to say you missed it and missed the chance of a few Chelsea signed prizes.

We have had a few big money signings over the past few years, but could you tell me, who were the first players to be bought and sold by Chelsea for more than £1 million? Answers as ever to me at pat.nevin@chelseafc.com

This week the lucky winner chosen randomly from the correct answers by the super swot of the Nevin household will get a Champions League DVD signed by one of the players involved. Good luck with that and good luck to the team tomorrow, I will be there and on Chelsea TV as well, so tune in and even phone in if you have any points to put across, I promise to be brutally honest.

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