You could be excused for thinking that as a former winger, Pat Nevin is no great fan of full-backs but two in blue have recently caught his eye, as he explains in this week’s column…
First the good news is that John Terry appears not to have damaged his cruciate ligament and with any luck he will be out for only a few weeks, not many months. Watching the game against Liverpool it was obviously the most important moment. At JT’s age any long-term injury is a serious concern, it takes much longer to get back and many never really recover their full capabilities after a cruciate snap in their thirties. So what a relief.
The skipper can’t seem to stop being the lead story, whether he likes it or not. His comeback goal itself would have been enough to satisfy the newspapers had it not been for the medical scare. Maybe he was feeling a little left out in that all the other centre-backs have been weighing in with goals this season, so it was time for him to join the party. Cahill has five, Ivanovic three and David Luiz also has struck twice, so of course John would have had it in his mind not to be seen as slacking.
It is always handy to share the scoring around because if you rely on just one or two, what happens if they get injured or their form dips? Sunderland really struggle if Steven Fletcher doesn’t score and even Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers must lie awake at night in case Luis Suarez gets as much as a slight sniffle in the build-up.
The scorers, whoever they are, do tend to hog the headlines but it is worth considering the last two games and applaud the impact of two players not noted for net bulging, Ryan Bertrand and Cesar Azpilicueta. Ryan has it tough in that he happens to have a fairly decent left-back in the way of him getting a game every week. On the positive side the England manager appears to have realised that he is international standard even if he doesn’t play every week and more to the point he couldn’t have a better left-back to learn from at the club.
There were moments during the Liverpool game when Ryan didn’t look unlike Ashley Cole haring up that left wing. In the second half in particular he was always an outlet, but sadly he just didn’t manage to find the perfect killer cross to provide the winner. There was one occasion in particular when he must have had the back page headlines flashing before his eyes.
He cut in at an angle towards the goal and there is no doubt that a shot was on even if that angle was acute. In the end he played the percentages, passed it inside and it came to nothing but maybe with a little more experience and a little more leverage in the pecking order he would have had a go. I certainly wouldn’t have complained and from that sort of an angle rebounds are just as likely to succeed as crosses in landing at a striker’s feet.
He would have deserved the notoriety for his performance and doubtless the opportunity will come again soon enough if he keeps showing that appetite to attack and uses that spectacular pace when it is on. If his contribution was fairly obvious then Azpilicueta’s was a little more hidden on the other flank, but for me just as impressive.
His play so far has been the model of controlled consistency that a new player should show. When Branislav Ivanovic is unavailable or needed elsewhere in the team, the right full-back position has regularly been a problem. No one has really grasped the opportunity, until now.
Yes the Spaniard does get up the field now and again giving the odd glimpse of his impressive pace, but so far he has concentrated on his defending when he has had his opportunities. Against Liverpool I thought he was spot on from start to finish, rarely if ever being beaten but more importantly showing very good decision-making skills. This is an often underrated ability in the modern full-back, many just burst forward at every opportunity leaving huge gaps behind them and also sometimes running into space, killing it for their team mates. He seemed to pick and choose very well against Liverpool; I just hope that this quiet, intelligent bedding-in period is the start of a long and illustrious career for Chelsea. As I say, we have waited a long time for the right man to take that position when Ivanovic isn’t there; I have great hopes that he will be the one.
There is one problem though; I don’t suppose he could get an easy nickname printed on the back of his shirt? Doing the commentary for the BBC I have to say that the name Azpilicueta doesn’t roll easily off this particular Scottish tongue. Give it a few weeks and a bit of use however and it will probably get easier. If not I am just going to call him Cesar.
Last week I also had the chance to meet up with Juan Mata for a chat and the conversation eventually veered towards the 100 greatest Chelsea players vote that has just been released in the latest Chelsea magazine.
No doubt we were not the only people talking about it from a Chelsea perspective and clearly there will be many a long debate into the wee small hours. Of course there will be a little extra weighting for the more modern lads (the top four all played in the last decade) but I suspect every player named feels just as I do, to be considered anywhere in the top 100 at our club is honour enough.
I scanned the list for quite a while and was surprised by a few positions and maybe by Dennis Wise more than most. He was clearly a Chelsea legend, but to be placed in eighth? After some thought I realised the fault was mine, at that time I was playing for another club so didn’t concentrate on Chelsea for a few years (even if they were still MY team). Dennis was clearly deserving of his place for his time, his leadership, his ability and because of how much his personality reflected so many of the fans.
After further honest soul searching maybe it is just because he replaced me soon after I left and in my heart until now I hadn’t fully forgiven him…I have now even if he is 12 places ahead of me in the vote! Get the magazine if you can, it will not only make you think but it also works as a good historical piece.
Last week’s question was, which current Chelsea star was ‘schooled’ by Blues legend and former captain Colin Pates? It was rather fittingly Victor Moses who powered in that vital last-minute headed winner against Shakhtar. Colin taught football at the school Victor attended, the Whitgift School in Croydon. Lots of correct answers flooded in, but drawn first was Peter Bushnell from Bicester, Oxon. The prize will be shipped off in a jiffy…(other makes of postal packaging are available).
This week to have a chance of winning a Kings of Europe book, signed by Petr Cech, could you tell me the name of a Chelsea player who has scored for Reading? Answers as ever to me at email@example.com