With two contrasting results for the team in the past week, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin considers the importance of the convincing return to winning ways at Southampton…
Nine games in January including a jaunt around the planet followed by eight games in January. Personally I loved playing lots of games during the season, but the two things that impacted on me were niggling injuries that slowed me down and jet lag which just makes a mess of your body and your mind.
You never know when you are suddenly going to feel grotty in these periods, you can cruise along feeling grand and then you wake up one morning thinking someone has been beating you with a baseball bat all night long. Other times it isn’t quite so dramatic and all you feel is a sloth-like sluggishness that is well-nigh impossible to shake off. From the outside it is impossible to see, because you look okay and can run around, but the spark feels like it has been surgically removed.
You don’t have to be a footballer to feel that, there are plenty of people who do ridiculously long hours, in manual jobs, and they don’t get five or six-figure sums paid into their bank accounts at the end of every week, so complaining footballers get very little sympathy and they know it. This doesn’t however change the fact that the human body can only withstand a certain amount before it starts to lose its ability to work at the maximum of its capability. This is all a pretty long-winded way of saying; didn’t the team as a whole look done-in against QPR?
Maybe that evening was the one that just too many players slumped at the same time. We did have plenty of the ball, QPR rarely ventured out of their own half, in fact the phrase ‘parked the bus’ could have been coined for that particular performance. What we didn’t have was the pace, the spark or the sharpness along with the subtlety of play or the quickness of thought to break them down. At the time everyone was shouting for Mata, including me, and maybe an earlier introduction of the ‘Mata-dor’ would have helped, but in retrospect and to be fair there were plenty of below par performances against 11 men working their socks off as well as carrying a fair bit of luck.
I think my frustration was still there until the game against Southampton, which generally isn’t an easy place for visiting teams to go. Once again on the road however, Chelsea looked invincible. There was that one poor half against West Ham in early December but since then Sunderland were well beaten, Leeds United were crushed before both Norwich and Everton succumbed to professional performances. In the wider scheme of things, it is still a pretty good little period, even if losing to QPR was galling and a wasted opportunity to put some pressure on Manchester United and lots of pressure on Manchester City.
There are of course ups and downs in every season, what we have to make sure now is that the blips don’t turn into slumps the way one did back in November. That is why the Southampton result was particularly pleasing; it was nipped in the bud. It was also of course hugely encouraging seeing the newest recruit start so smartly.
With that sort of willingness he will become a great favourite at the Bridge but as a centre forward, I bet he was beyond desperate to sign for the Blues. At Newcastle Demba Ba was very successful on a fairly limited amount of opportunities. He must now look at Mata, Hazard, Moses etc. and think, I am going to get so many more goal-scoring opportunities than I have been used to. He will of course also have £50 million worth of competition in the shape of Fernando Torres, but that should be a good thing for both players. They may or may not play together much, I suspect rarely, but it immediately answers the question at the top of this page about players being tired. Fernando can get the rests he has been needing.
If Fernando and Demba are sharp and fully fit then the rotation so beloved of Rafa Benitez in his Liverpool days could well be very successful so long as both players are happy with it. Fernando after the huge pressure of the work rate he has been asked to put in, may now see the benefits of the odd break. He might not have accepted it before! Demba as I say will just be happy to be here, so I have great hopes.
Now all that has to be done is to take care of Swansea, starting tomorrow, and the silverware could start flowing back towards west London. You kind of get used to winning trophies and even though it isn’t quite the Champions League, it is certainly one that Rafa and the boys would love to get for the fans, here’s hoping.
Last week’s quiz asked for your favourite moment of 2012, excluding the whole Munich experience. There were plenty that you went for – Torres scoring in the Nou Camp, Ramires netting superbly in the same game. Many also felt that the Napoli game at the Bridge was wonderful and of course a catalyst for everything that followed. Birmingham City in the fifth round FA Cup replay was mentioned more than once and beating Spurs at Wembley was particularly sweet for many. David Luiz cruising into midfield also cropped up, as did Oscar’s goal v Juventus. There were also plenty of brilliant personal stories of where you were and how it affected family members, I enjoyed reading them all.
There were plenty of others but the lucky winner was Nikulas Ulfar Masson from Reykjavik in Iceland who said Ramires at the Nou Camp
This week to have a chance of being the lucky winner drawn randomly to win a Kings of Europe book, signed by one of the players, could you give the name of the player with the shortest surname to play for the Blues other than Demba Ba? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org