As he wishes the players well for tonight’s game, former Blue Pat Nevin considers whether this month is just like any other month…
There is no point in dressing it up, two points out of the last 12 in the Premier league is a pretty disappointing return especially after such a strong and stylish start to the season. Everyone does go on about the November nightmare for Chelsea happening again, but I suspect that is mostly just a coincidence.
That will not stop those at the club charged with checking every detail, if there actually is a reason for this annual malaise. Here are a few possible ideas – it is when the suspensions and injuries start kicking in which tend to affect Chelsea more than most. Well Frank Lampard has missed a few games of late; JT is also missing through injury having missed four on the bounce with his ban. Ashley Cole also has had an unusual little mid-season lay off, so could there be something in this?
Certainly they are important players, indeed key figures for the team and to be missing them all at once is pretty unlucky. It is not only their ability but the leadership qualities on the field that will also be sorely missed. There have been injuries to players in previous Novembers, but are they really worse for Chelsea than for other teams? I am not convinced, but then my mind wanders to Manchester United with their centre-back problems when Vidic isn’t playing and I think, yes, one or two big personalities do make a big difference when they are in important areas.
A few people have also suggested that this is a difficult time of the year for those who regularly play in international games as well as Champions League games. Just about every Chelsea player is an established international and will be demanded by their countries to jet off around the planet when the club would rather they were rested, and indeed the club might know that they need rest because they are on the ‘edge’ of becoming injured.
If you are an older player, recovery is hard because the body just doesn’t accept all the physical exertions, the travel and the sleep deprivation as well as it used to, unless you hold back a bit in the games. So maybe it is just as well the captain isn’t turning out for England any more as he doesn’t do things by half measures. On the other hand the likes of young Oscar has not learned how to adapt his body to this new and punishing regime. Those Brazil matches aren’t played next door you know and jet lag is an incredible energy drainer. That said, once more all the other clubs have similar dilemmas.
Then there was the effect of the African Cup of Nations. Lest we forget its effects often lingered with Didier Drogba for many months in his time at the club. Whether it could be still having an effect the November after they are held is probably pushing it a bit, but certainly the players going to Africa in the early season have significant tiredness issues due to the travel, which doesn’t always work on time or fit precisely to the schedule you would choose for yourself.
It has also been suggested that those who play in a summer international tournament and get to the latter stages often dip around about this time of the year. Certainly Fernando has looked ‘leg weary’ now and again, but then again anyone would who was playing on their own up front in every single game, twice and sometimes three times a week.
Actually I would like to hear any theories you have on the subject, it might just sound like looking for excuses and we might be crawling in the dark looking for a light that isn’t there, but you never know, there might be a reason or certainly some contributing factors the club hasn’t considered.
All of which leads to the fact that we know this little run cannot continue if we are going to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Juventus away always looked like the toughest game of the group stage and now we turn up in Turin needing to get something out of it. There are a few permutations left but it is getting close to the time that Robbie pulls out one of those special results he became renowned for last season.
Everyone remembers the final and even the game in Barcelona before it, but there have been others of course. The Napoli game at the Bridge was the one that seemed to kick off the dream and once again it is a top Italian side that stands in the way of our progression. Juventus are without doubt a fine side, who were good value for their point at Stamford Bridge back in September, but Chelsea were a brand new team then, just learning the ropes of the new system. The question is, have we learned enough yet to go there and get the result?
Juventus haven’t exactly cruised through this group either, the draw with FC Nordsjaelland could yet be their downfall, but in the simplest terms, I guess we will simply have to get a point in this one to go through, period. I just wonder if Robbie will be just a little cagier this time, just as I believe he tried to be in Donetsk. It backfired on that occasion mainly because Frank Lampard had to go off early and the game plan had to be quickly redrawn.
Wherever he goes and whatever he does, it will be subject to extreme scrutiny in the press. Personally I don’t care if it is tactical genius or brazen good fortune, just as long as somehow we can get that point and keep our destiny in our own hands.
Last week’s quiz question was, can you tell me the name of a Chelsea player who has scored for Reading? Well there are a few correct answers though the most current is of course Ryan Bertrand who was on loan there. Others from the past who moved to Reading having previously played for the Blues were Paul Canoville and Robert Fleck. Steve Sidwell moved to Chelsea from Reading and how about Kerry Dixon who scored bucket loads there before becoming a Chelsea scoring sensation. Ron Tindall played and scored for both clubs in the 1950s and 60s, then for true archivists Stan Wicks did the same in the 1940s and 50s.
We have to include Michael Essien’s own goal back in December 2006 for Reading as well if we are going to be totally fair. There were plenty of correct answers but the winner chosen at random by the girl physically pushing me off my computer so that she can go on Facebook is, Miika Kunnas from Helsinki, Finland.
This week to have a chance of being the randomly chosen winner of a DVD of last season’s Champions League campaign, signed by Ashley Cole, could you tell me the name of any Chelsea player from any era who has won the league championship in more than one country? Answers as ever to me at [email protected]
Good luck to you and to the lads tonight.