With the win over Arsenal putting fans through a range of emotions before ultimate triumph, former Chelsea star Pat Nevin looks at the effect of atmosphere in this week’s column…
I wish I could figure out how I really feel about how the team is playing at the moment, but it is quite difficult. Actually it is pretty easy to gauge the away form; it has been fantastic, the travelling support being given a succession of treats so four away games on the spin coming up shouldn’t be too stressful, but back at the Bridge it has been an altogether less comfortable experience, as anyone who was at the QPR or Swansea games will attest.
You can’t really argue against the fact that a certain edginess has crept into a few of the home matches and even on Sunday against Arsenal there was a period in the second half, maybe for the first half an hour, when the uncertainty returned. Now a number of things are worth remembering, plenty of teams have difficult spells during most games, so that is not unusual, you cannot dominate all the teams all of the time.
There is also the old football cliché that a 2-0 lead is a dangerous one, as your opponent has nothing to lose and they just go for it, not giving a jot regarding the pressure. You on the other hand know that you can only lose it from there so, do you defend and hold or attack and leave gaps giving them chances? This never seemed a problem under Jose Mourinho, but he was very unusual in that. Nearly every other club and every other manager suffers from this dilemma at one point or another.
Arsenal of course did come out (very early) for that second half absolutely fired up, or ‘feared up’ at least, following the no doubt furious comments from their boss. So they were always going to benefit from a bit of a reaction, all this however couldn’t really explain the extreme difference between the total domination, crisp passing, superb closing down and tackling of the first half and our tentative defensive start to the second.
I was analysing the game for the BBC’s Match of the Day and considered many ideas why we faltered.
Did Frank tire just a little after the break and hence the others around him lost belief because their leader dipped? Actually I do not think it was that. Did Rafa tell them to sit back and defend? I doubt that strongly, I am sure at half time he said to the team nothing more complicated than ‘same again lads.’ There may have been something in the fact that Fernando wasn’t able to hold up the play as much in the second half and the ball as such came back too quickly, the perfect example being their goal.
Certainly Demba Ba’s muscular presence changed the game again when he came on and Arsenal immediately wilted, but I wouldn’t point the finger purely blaming Fernando’s tiredness either, it is worth everyone remembering he did continue to work his socks off even if things weren’t going his way.
In the end I think it is a number of factors but one problem I have to admit is that the atmosphere around the stadium when things get a bit iffy is certainly beginning to have an effect on some of the players at times. Now the important thing to remember is that this is not the fans’ fault, players and especially top players should be able to play something approaching their best football no matter what the circumstances are in the stands.
For a kick off, I didn’t see the lads wilting when Stoke City fans were giving them a right hard time the other week; in fact it seemed to serve only to galvanise them. So the players should be able to play through the murmurings of discontent that sometimes arise, but the thing is they can’t always do that.
Let’s try it from another angle; I can’t recall any moment in five years playing every week for this great club, a single negative vibe aimed towards me. So even if I wasn’t having a good game, particularly at the Bridge, I would still usually hear and indeed feel that wave of positivity and support when I got the ball in the last third.
It never failed to give me an extra lift, a surge in confidence and belief in myself because I knew the fans believed in me. I knew they accepted there would be mistakes, that everything wouldn’t always come off, but they would still lift me because they knew they would always get 100% and maybe, just maybe I had a little bit of talent that might just turn the game for us.
At other clubs in my career, that unstinting support wasn’t always there for me to quite that level and although the rare moments of negativity from the terraces never put me off, I certainly didn’t always get that extra surge of positivity I could rely on back at my spiritual home.I also knew that there were others in the team who were put off by the unease in the support, but for the standard of players we have I think it is more about missing that extra boost a huge home backing gives, and the extra 5 to 10% it adds to their performances.
When we had it in the first half against Arsenal we were bordering on brilliant; the back heels and flicks were coming off, everyone wanted to be on the ball, while the understanding and confidence was sky high to a man. The players, the fans and the club were connected and it was an unbeatable force. I hope we see and hear that more and more often; after all I like to think it has generally been the default position throughout the years at Stamford Bridge.
Oh yes and there is a semi-final tomorrow, it looks like a long shot but I bet the Swansea fans aren’t taking it for granted just yet. As I mentioned earlier, they say that 2-0 is a dangerous lead and an early goal for the Blues will certainly make it a very interesting evening. Good luck to the lads and to everyone travelling to the game, be safe and I do not need to say be supportive, you always are.
So last week I asked for the name of the former Arsenal player who I had mentioned in passing in the article who also happened to be a friend. There was also the hint that he played for Southampton as well and there were quite a few guesses. Many went for Charlie George while others considered the Scottish connection in Charlie Nicholas. The answer was actually Perry Groves.
Anyone who ever listens to BBC Radio 5 Live around 7pm to 10pm on a Friday evening will usually find us on together there with Colin Murray. Only one correct answer is chosen at random and this week it is Julia Fu from New York City.
To have a chance this week of winning a Munich Champions League final picture signed by one of the players, could you tell me, other than in this current tie against Swansea, when was the last time Chelsea lost to a competitive first-team game to a Welsh side? Answers as ever to firstname.lastname@example.org