Fresh from being one of the excited spectators at the Bridge watching how a much-anticipated match panned out, Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin writes in detail about that game and the one following closely behind…
After the short summer break it seems as though we are in the thick of the season already. After all the grumps and groans elsewhere about the fixture lists, I think we should be relatively happy about two homes games in a row, just to get us going. That is not to say however, we will be taking the Villa game lightly.
For all that there is great positivity around the Bridge and indeed from most commentators about our chances of having a successful season; Aston Villa could well be one of the surprise packages this time round. I was equally amazed and impressed that Paul Lambert had managed to hold on to Christian Benteke after his spectacular introduction last term, but more than that he has added to the squad in interesting ways.
The big striker Helenius could take some of the pressure off Benteke and Luna should strengthen the left defensive area when he isn’t scoring goals against Arsenal. It is however Jores Okore I am most keen to see.
Many Chelsea fans will recall him from the games against FC Nordsjaelland last season. He was not only a fine player but a true entertainer and considering he is a centre-back, that is saying something. In fact there is an argument to say he is at least as adventurous as our own David Luiz! In short nothing can be taken for granted in this upcoming game.
On Sunday against Hull we did get the start we wanted against what was, by the end of the game, an improving side. There was a question that hung in the air at the end however, why was it so different in the second half. The first 35 minutes of the game were little less than devastating form the Blues, so much so that five goals would not have been flattering. The tempo was incredible, the inventiveness and ingenuity from the front six and at times the full-backs too, was leaving the Hull players wondering if Chelsea had fielded 13 players.
Well as ever I suspect there were a number of reasons for the comparative dip in the second period. First of all Hull definitely improved but that wasn’t the real cause. Chelsea players must have had one eye on the Villa game aware that it is going to be anything but easy. Even so, I think in all honesty the Chelsea lads found it hard to keep up that early intensity and high pace because it is the first game of the season.
It is an old cliché but you can play as many friendlies as you like, it doesn’t replicate the real thing. The first day of any season is a gruelling affair and if it is as hot and stuffy as it was at the Bridge at the weekend, it makes it that little bit harder.
The high tempo pressing game that we started off with against Hull was clearly at the behest of the manager. It has been noticeable on many occasions over the last few seasons that Chelsea have been sluggish, or maybe it would better be described as relaxed, starters. I am not a fan of this, particularly at home; it negates the advantage we have got from other teams’ fear of coming to the Bridge. If you don’t press teams early they can grow in belief and it can lead to more problems later on in the game than you might have had with a sharper start. It also is the case that it is sometimes hard for a team to go through the gears at will as a group, so you might as well start in top gear then take it easier once you have a lead.
Jose Mourinho knows this, you don’t have his home career record without being acutely aware of how best to use your home advantage.
So the game was for all intents and purposes won in that first half hour and many more will go the same way this season. The big thing to work towards is to be able to keep that level up for a bit longer every week as you get fitter and more used to the style. I expect that will happen over the next few weeks and by the time the contenders come to town, hopefully we will be ready and waiting.
In the midst of all the excitement around Jose’s return and Roman’s 10 years of ownership, it is worth remembering the impact a few players had. Kevin De Bruyne had worked all last season to get himself into a position to contend at Chelsea and if the Hull game was anything to go by, he is certainly in contention.
Now this is clearly saying something special when you consider that Oscar, Hazard and Mata are the incumbents and they are not bad. Clearly it doesn’t matter who you are, if you do not perform now at Chelsea, there certainly will not be a place kept for you. Reputations count for little, performances everything. This is clearly a good thing for the team, if a tad stressful on players.
The problem is keeping everybody happy, but I suspect Jose Mourinho is as good as anyone in the planet at developing the right culture. This means not only a winning mentality but a willingness throughout the squad to battle for a place even if you haven’t played for a while. It is called good management and I think we all agree he is pretty good at management.
Another thought worth mulling over was the sight of John Terry, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard all starting and finishing against Hull. There were times last season when seeing that trio playing together looked very unlikely going forward at Chelsea, but it was a joy to see them again and importantly each performing at the top for their games. With Jose and his team on the sidelines I might have even allowed myself a little nostalgic moment, before I shook myself and realised they’ll probably all be playing here for ages so there is no need to get all dewy eyed yet .Now that is a happy thought?
So my weekly quiz makes its return due to popular demand, an email flooded in last week to ask where it was. So a fairly easy one to start off with, which Chelsea player played in the most competitive first team games (that includes full internationals) over the last 12 months? The lucky winner chosen randomly will get a DVD review of last season, signed by one of the players. Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will endeavour to get my glamorous assistant to make the all-important draw, though that may not always be possible this season. She has rather selfishly decided to swan off and study to become a doctress, I mean how selfish is that?