From the moment the Champions League draw was made, columnist and former Chelsea star Pat Nevin picked out this fixture as one to whet the appetite, and now it is here he anticipates an enthralling evening…
I remember at the start of the season saying that I thought this would be an exciting period right from the start with plenty of entertaining football but that success might mean waiting a little bit longer. Well it is hard to argue this has been anything less than exciting so far and as for entertainment, I reckon it has been at an exceptional level.
The game at Spurs was a cracker, open, nail-biting and filled with skill throughout. Tottenham played their part of course but I reckon there were moments of pure class on the Chelsea side. Juan Mata’s performance hardly needs mentioning it was so special; it had everything from creation, effort and goals to sheer joyous impudence on occasion.
What did sum it up for me however was the through ball by Eden Hazard that laid on Mata’s second goal. Blink and you could miss it but the vision, the timing, the awareness and the execution were as good as it gets. Even to think about making that pass inside a defender as experienced as William Gallas was pretty darn good, but to take him totally out of the play with that level of precision was a thing of beauty.
There are times as a player when you are operating at a special level; it feels totally natural to see the entire picture in three dimensions while adding the fourth of time without even thinking. Gianfranco Zola did it regularly, but most players just feel it once in a blue moon. Our lads up front have been doing it with the same delightful regularity as Zola used to. I am sure you remember the back heel by Hazard to Fernando Torres for the goal against Newcastle United, that was another prime example and Oscar’s gem against Juventus was similarly a perfect illustration of a player operating at an almost unnatural level of awareness.
What also seems to have happened is that they are able to take it in turns; if Mata is quieter on the day then Oscar will step up to the plate and if he isn’t then Eden Hazard takes on the mantle. God help any defence that comes up against them when they are each firing on all cylinders.
Right now it feels as if the season is just starting but the first team has already hammered in 36 goals in all competitions. More impressive yet is that there have been 20 goals in the last five outings, suggesting that the form is if anything, getting better. Like Roberto and everyone else at the club, I would add a note of caution, that there will be hiccups along the way, but the more you score and win the easier it gets as confidence is sky high.
The first note of caution comes tonight with the tie in Donetsk, this is going to be as tough an assignment as the team have had this season. Europe is harder as Juventus have already shown and an away tie in Ukraine will never be a walk in the park, but it is another landmark game in the season. A result in this one will set us up for the rest of the competition. Shakhtar’s draw away to Juventus, they were unlucky not to win, underlines the talent they have and right now I wouldn’t be devastated by a point, with the hope that we could get all three against them at home.
The Ukrainians are obviously an extremely capable outfit, in fact calling them Ukrainians is a bit of a misnomer in that there are eight Brazilians in the squad, or nine really when you add Eduardo who plays for Croatia but was born and bred in Rio. There is quality throughout but the man I am most keen to see is the Armenian Henrik Mkhitaryan (pictured below), an extremely dangerous player who has been in outstanding form since last season. This season he has pushed on and scored 14 in 12 league games as well as both goals against Nordsjaelland – and oh yes, he is a playmaker not an out and out striker.
I think the importance of this game will be much discussed afterwards. The media still feel that the games against Atletico Madrid and Juventus were real warning shots for the Blues, when considering whether or not with our new cavalier style, we are serious contenders for the top table in Europe just yet. Shakhtar also play a 4-2-3-1 formation not unlike the one favoured by Chelsea this season and their three attacking midfielders are a creative bunch too, so I expect if not an avalanche of goals then certainly quite a few chances at least.
So once again I expect intrigue, excitement and entertainment and that is before we even contemplate the arrival of Manchester United at the Bridge on Sunday afternoon, then again on Wednesday night.
Last week saw the largest ever number of correct entries into the quiz. Whether this page is getting pretty popular or more likely it was far too easy a question, I will let you decide. Anyway the question was who has played for Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea? Well a couple suggested Clive Allen but he didn’t actually make the field for Arsenal. A couple of others went for George Graham but he managed Spurs and didn’t play for them. The vast majority of you however were quite aware that William Gallas was the name I was looking for this week.
So the fortunate winner randomly picked by the demon driver from Duns was Bernard Redhouse from Stanmore. Well done you. This week to have a chance of being the lucky winner of a copy of the new Kings of Europe book, signed by a player, could you tell me the name of a Chelsea player with an animal as a nickname? Answers as ever to me at email@example.com
Good luck and let’s hope the lads can keep up the good work this week.