Chelsea legend Pat Nevin was behind the radio commentary mic and in the post-match press conference at Spurs on Saturday, and brings his observations into this week’s column…
Saturday lunchtime’s little skirmish in north London was as informative a game as I have witnessed this season. Beforehand Spurs looked a strong group, well organised and possessing more than enough guile to trouble most Premier league sides. Even Jose Mourinho, under an onslaught from the press to open up on his relationship or non-relationship with AVB, was candid enough to say that this is a Tottenham team that can realistically challenge for the title.
Whether or not this will prove to be the case in the long term we will have to wait and see. In the very short term however, that is for most of the first half, it looked pretty accurate. With Dembele dominating the deep midfield, Townsend being a headache on the right and the Eriksen/Siggurdson partnership looking confident and creative further up the park; it could have all gone very wrong for the Blues.
What did happen were two things. They scored and because of that Chelsea adapted their style to impressive effect, JT nearly equalising before half time in an unheeded warning of what was to come in the second half. The second thing that happened is that Jose tweaked it a bit at the break.
The obvious adaptation was the introduction of Mata, but there was a change to the attacking method as well. Whereas the first half saw Chelsea looking to capitalise on a high line from the Spurs defence with long diagonal balls over the top from deep, the second half we tried to get into that same space with shorter through balls. The upshot was that Oscar could have scored from Fernando’s right-wing break, Fernando got himself one on one with the keeper again, only for Lloris to save well and Schurrle could also have easily netted had the French keeper not rushed him just in the nick of time.
The game may have finished all square but Jose Mourinho bossed the tactical battle in the second half when both managers made changes, the sorcerer undoubtedly outwitting the apprentice over the 90 minutes. Had the referee not sent off Fernando for innocently challenging their suspiciously soft centre-back (come on did he really have a sore face?), I think any fair person would accept the only team likely to win late on was Chelsea.
Most importantly this looked like a real Jose side, not unlike the performance in parts against Bayern. I doubt it will be a totally smooth process, but it is clear the manager is absolutely determined to demand a very high standard from every single player every week.
For example in the press conference after the game he was asked about the absence of Kevin De Bruyne from the squad. Simple, he hadn’t impressed the manager at Swindon, full stop. It may well have sounded like a stinging analysis of our Belgian star, but it was no more than the harsh truth from the manager. There is no doubt he will be just as fulsome with his praise on any player who pleases him as he is candid about any he thinks has underperformed. Forget mollycoddled superstars, they will get it straight from Jose, like it or not.
The absolute truth of this was shown in his comments regarding Juan Mata, the positivity in that same press conference on Juan, made it clear that there are no favourites. If you play well consistently you will be in the team, no matter who you are. For Jose football is all about the now, not about last season or 10 years ago or even two weeks ago. If you are on form, then you play. The biggest problem is that creativity is hard to produce every single week, and that level of consistency is harder the further you get forward. As such the strikers and attacking midfielders may be rotated fairly frequently, but the defenders much less so. They are more likely to be rested than dropped.
The answer to that particular forward’s dilemma is to work and to work very hard. Oscar didn’t have his best game in the first half at Spurs, mostly because the ball was flying over his head from the back, but it didn’t change his work rate or attitude one little bit. For those old enough to recall, I remember learning that lesson very early on in my Chelsea career. We played Newcastle down at the Bridge, beat them 4-0 and I had a pretty good game by all accounts. But what I was most impressed with that day was one of their players.
Kevin Keegan, a bona fide superstar at the time even if he was then in his late thirties, was in the Newcastle team. He wasn’t having a great game but he was still chasing every single lost cause right up until the final whistle. The truly top-class players know that it doesn’t flow every week and when that happens you might just have to sacrifice your skill for total endeavour.
This hasn’t changed over the years; Jose Mourinho knows this and is drumming it into the players along with the tactics. For the game tonight against Steaua, that level of effort will have to be foremost of everyone’s minds. It is a tough task but with the right attitude an away win is definitely a possibility. It would be a great win, but more importantly it would put us back in a great position re qualification from the group stage. The alternative isn’t worth speaking about, especially if you are Jose Mourinho.
Last week’s quiz looked for the name of a player who had played for both the Blues and the Robins (Swindon).
Well it was a long list which included the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Roy Wegerle, Duncan Shearer, Dennis Wise, Gus Poyet, Alan Mayes, Dave Mitchell, Micky Hazard, Rhys Evans and Dennis Brown. Any one of those would do. There can be only one winner however, so the randomly chosen champ this week, picked by my better half is Dave Steel from Christchurch, New Zealand. Well done that man and the prize will be on its way soon. In that it is the other side of the world however it may take a wee while.
To have a chance of being the lucky winner this week, could you tell me, or even just guess, who was the first Chelsea player ever to score for the club against Steaua Bucharest. Answers as usual to me at [email protected]
And of course come on the lads tonight – this one is very, very important.
– Pat Nevin will be live in the Chelsea TV studio on Tuesday with ‘Matchnight Live’. Tune in to hear the latest team news, live commentary and for all the post-match reaction.