Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin will be at the Bridge on Wednesday night and hopes for an atmosphere to aid the quest for Champions League progress…
They often say these days that there is never a dull moment with Chelsea, actually that is not strictly true, there were a couple of less than riveting moments during the Man City 0-0 game the other week, but I take the point. Being the media front man for the club must be a full-on experience these days, so take a bow Steve Atkins for doing one of the most strenuous jobs in the game right now and then maybe take a couple of days off when you have a chance, it always helps to recharge the old batteries.
Focus however tends to be aimed at the manager and the players, especially when results are less than impressive. Certainly having won the Champions League final and then started the domestic campaign successfully and incredibly stylishly, the recent run of games has been painful in comparison.
In actual fact I always suspected there would be a dip, I was continually warning about it, as indeed many of Chelsea’s true and more realistic fans also were keen to do. It all got a bit messy with the change of managers, but in reality a few menacing clouds were already forming on the horizon even in Robbie’s last days in charge. Having said that, everything looks like a lull when your most recent work before that was joyously delivering the FA Cup and the Champions League trophy.
What we are hoping is that this is and was always going to be a short-term blip and not a season-long transitional set of difficulties for a changing squad. But while we muse into the wee small hours about that, the players cannot and will not be thinking that way. It is a bit easier for them, they can, indeed they must concentrate on the next game and there is always an important one just round the corner these days.
Tomorrow is of course FC Norsjaelland at the Bridge in a game we must win to give us even a sliver of a chance of qualifying. As every Chelsea fan knows by now, we need to win and hope that Shakhtar Donetsk do the same against Juventus over in Ukraine. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this will happen, it is sadly just really rather unlikely. I do not know anyone who is betting on anything other than a draw in that game, which would of course send both of them through and doom Chelsea to the Europa League. I am not suggesting anything you understand, or even so much as insinuating anything either about integrity, but when two teams need a draw it is amazing how often you get a draw, I hope I am wrong.
As a player however you can’t think about that, all you can do is beat the 11 in front of you. FC Norsjaelland, though no mugs (they did get a point from Juventus after all) should be put to the sword in no uncertain terms if the players have got their heads right. In as much as it has been a less than impressive run of games, the statistics for November are not pretty at all, this is a chance to pump up the confidence whether or not it ultimately leads to the Champions or Europa League.
Purely as an exercise in positivity and not necessarily reality, I looked for any heartening statistic I could find for the last couple of weeks, just to make me feel a little better about things. Clearly there have been six halves of football since Rafa came in and in five of those Petr Cech has kept clean sheets…hurrah! Actually the first 45 minutes against West Ham were pretty darned good, so let’s hope the final 45 minutes were an aberration that the players can move on from…once again we will see in the fullness of time.
Certainly along with the obvious confidence/belief dip from one or two of the lads (and a few of the fans I suspect), the luck has also deserted the team, though to be fair we might have used our fair share of good fortune in the second half of last season and this is no more than payback time now. As the old saying goes though, you make your own luck in this game and this is as good a time as any to do that.
With all that is going on in the stands and in the press, the players will enjoy blanking it all out while they are on the field. Having been a player, a fan, a reporter and a club executive, the least stressful job of them all on a match day is by far and away, playing on the pitch. You can do something, you can affect the outcome more than anyone else. The fans can also affect the outcome more than they know, but obviously not as much as the players. Running around is also de-stressing compared with sitting in the stand with your stomach in knots hoping that Fernando scores with his next chance, so he can quieten the critics, for a few days at least.
Tomorrow night the boys will need some of that fan power and noise to help them and I suspect they will get plenty of it, but only if the news from Ukraine is good. Even if it is level with Shakhtar and Juve with 10 minutes to go there will still be some hope, but if Juventus are in front I think we can accept the paying public might be a bit glum in the stadium. I just hope that the atmosphere isn’t too weird, that is not what Stamford Bridge is like historically, but there are of course well-aired reasons for that.
Whatever anyone thinks of Rafa Benitez however, I do think it would be a little unfair to blame him for a Champions League exit if we get the three points but still go out. After all he wasn’t actually on board for the first five games of the campaign. If we do win, then he could argue he has a 100% record in Europe with the Blues, I think he would be delighted with that statistic, if not necessarily fooled by it.
Last week’s quiz question asked you to name a former Blues manager who had played for Aston Villa? Well it turns out there were a couple. Certainly John Neal (the man who brought me to the club) turned out for the Villa, while many of you were also quick to underline that Danny Blanchflower also managed the Blues after playing for the claret and blues.
There is only one winner allowed though, so randomly chosen on the back seat of the private jet taking the Arsenal team and me to Athens, the lucky guy is Ulugov Uma from Tajikistan. I will be back in time for the Wednesday night game at the Bridge, after enjoying the Gunners hospitality (actually I am working for the BBC and this was the only route I could take, not that I am complaining, the players and guests get very well treated on these flights, even if the quails eggs were a tad overdone) and in the meantime you could while away a few moments figuring out the answer to this week’s question.
When was the last time Chelsea played in Athens and what was the result? As usual send your answers to me at email@example.com
The lucky winner will receive a copy of the Kings of Europe book, signed by Petr Cech.