Chelsea legend and media man Pat Nevin witnessed more ups and downs this weekend, but enters the coming week on a huge high after a deserved win against Manchester United…
I will admit to still being on something of a high from yesterday, and actually that is probably the reason why I am posting this a few hours later than usual. Southampton and the defeat there has brought the tension back into the race for the Champions League places so it was with some trepidation that most of us turned up for the FA Cup game against Manchester United, the season hung by the proverbial thread yet again it seemed.
It was as tense as expected in the first half but you would have to place the blame for that fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the visitors and their unusually negative tactics. Of course Sir Alex Ferguson has played a breaking game before, and in fact it has served them very well, particularly in Europe over the years, but it showed me one thing more than anything else. It showed that if United don’t exactly fear Chelsea then they certainly have a huge respect for the capabilities of the current team.
Why else would Fergie move Phil jones into the deep-lying centre-midfield role alongside Michael Carrick? Of course he will have watched Oscar, Juan Mata and particularly Eden Hazard over the past few weeks and thought: ‘I cannot afford to give them space in front of my back four.’ This made perfect sense especially after the second half of the first tie when the Blues utterly dominated the Red Devils in Manchester, and how many sides do that at Old Trafford?
There was certainly that grudging respect which is always nice to see, but more importantly what that also does is give a huge lift to the team. Chelsea players must have known immediately that they had changed to combat us, it is in many ways the biggest compliment an opponent can give you and it implies they rate you, maybe even more than they rated themselves on this particular occasion?
By the end it had ebbed and flowed a bit but few would argue that Chelsea were the better side overall, even if there were relatively few chances either end. I do however have to mention two that United had, in the first half Javier Hernandez shot and the ball must have moved in about three different directions before it reached Petr Cech, yet he still managed to get his foot to it and save the day. The second chance was of course from Chicharito’s header and again Petr saved it when he had absolutely no right to get even close to it.
Commentating on BBC Radio 5 Live, I said then and there it was one of the greatest saves I have ever witnessed and that was before I saw the replays in slow motion from a variety of angles. After watching it a few times, it simply gets better and better. I have been fortunate over the years to play with some great goalkeepers. At Chelsea Eddie Niedzwiecki was spectacularly good. When I was at Everton, Neville Southall was probably the best in the world at the time. By the time I was finishing my career back in Scotland, Andy Goram was between the sticks and he would do unfathomably great things in training every single day. These were all world-class goalkeepers and they all had great moments, but every single one of them would have been deeply proud to have made the save Petr made at the weekend.
I love watching Chelsea at the moment because most games, if you watch closely enough you will see something very special at some point. Against United there was a back-flick dummy through his own legs on the right hand side from Oscar which could only have been pulled off by a handful of players in the world game. It scarcely got a mention, but I would have gone home happy just having witnessed that.
There were of course other moments, in the second half there was a passing move on the right-hand side that led to half a chance but because it was fluffed it will be forgotten, but the intricate passing play in the build-up was like Barcelona at their best.
The other great moment which you could not fail to see was of course the goal. The pass from Juan Mata was one of the best from any player in England this season. The vision and imagination to see that the ball was on is possessed by very few, the skill to execute it by fewer still, but he did. Having said that, it still left Demba Ba with the need to deliver a world-class finish, which of course he did. Maybe that is the real quality of the goal, Mata having trained with Ba for a while now, actually understands the capabilities of his team mate and is willing to trust his ability to get on the end of it, no matter how difficult the angle of the pass is when it arrives.
It all led to a rather warm glow (metaphorically of course, it was freezing at the match) as we trouped out of the Bridge and allowed our minds to wander towards Wembley and Manchester City. There have been moments this season were it would have been a level of fear from Chelsea fans about those opponents, but now I suspect most are just enjoying the ride, even if it has been a rollercoaster up until now. Bring on Rubin Kazan now – we have no idea what to expect other than the unexpected, but we will almost certainly be entertained at some point.
Last week’s quiz asked you to name a Welsh full-back who played for the Blues. My mind had wandered immediately towards Gareth Hall and Joey Jones and those were the most popular correct answers I received. There are others however, including Darren Barnard (1990s), Tom Hewitt, Billy Hughes (1940/50s), Peter Nicholas, Arthur Smith (1930/40s and Danny Winter (1940/50s).
There can only be one winner from the many hundreds who took part, and the lucky one is Daryl Read from Northampton. The quiz has a rest this week as I try to catch up with work but will be back next week after two more games and hopefully another memorable European night.