Naturally impressed by Chelsea’s most recent results and performance, former Blue and current columnist Pat Nevin looks at improvements made…
The Bridge was absolutely bouncing at the end of the match on Sunday. Usually that phrase is a bit of an exaggeration but not this time. As the strains of the Madness classic ‘One Step Beyond’ burst forth, the bouncing started in unison after what had been one of the best games of the season in the Premier League, and I don’t just mean the ones involving Chelsea either.
The quality on show was fantastic, the endeavour top drawer and the tension never subsided. For a period Chelsea where on top, then Man City had a dominant spell before it changed back and forth again about a dozen times. For a game that was so universally hyped beforehand, for once it managed not to disappoint on any level.
Every player had a story to tell and I would like to mention a few in no particular order of importance. First, Frank Lampard had a superb afternoon. He covered intelligently, passed extremely well but it was his tackling of Yaya Toure in particular that stood out. In a team of superstar players, Toure stands head and shoulders above most of his team mates, literally and metaphorically. If you stop Toure then you go a long way to stopping City and Frank was all over him like a rash every time he got on the ball. Others worked hard to tackle him as well, but Lamps seemed to take it as his personal mission to nullify the Ivorian.
Ashley Cole also had one of his best tackling days for quite some time and it was great to see his energy levels stay high right to the end of the game having been out injured. Talking about energy levels, both Oscar and Schurrle ran themselves into the ground as usual and it was great to see Andre getting another goal to just about nail his settling-in period at the club. When you are on a run of goals, sometimes you seem to score and find yourself in scoring positions without even thinking about it. The tap-in to open the scoring was all about continuing to move and as such being difficult to mark.
I also thought Ramires had one of his best games ever for Chelsea. Of course the Olympian running power was as evident as ever, so much so that we almost take it for granted, but the control and passing were as good as I have witnessed from him in a blue shirt. I really did feel that he had a very good shout to be man of the match, along with Branislav Ivanovic, but it would have been slightly churlish to deny the man of the moment.
This game, when looked back on by many people, will be all about Fernando Torres. The torrents of abuse have come from many angles, and sometimes it has been hard to defend him in his lowest moments, but I almost always have. The reason is that I don’t accept that he is no longer one of the great strikers in world football. I think there have been dips in form and confidence of course. There have been systems that have not suited to him and there have been mistakes by the man himself, specifically in overdoing it on the ball when things weren’t going for him.
That is the time to play it simple, play it wide and get into the box where you can score, even if it is a fluke; they all count the same. You could argue that fault was down to actually trying too hard sometimes.
Judging by the last few games, many of the problems seemed to have been ironed out, the style and system suits him to a tee and there has been an injection of power meaning that just about no one shrugs him off the ball anymore. The belief has completely returned and the confidence seems unrecognisable when compared to his darkest times. Do you want to know why it has all finally fallen into place? Let me tell you right here, so do I.
Obviously there will be a number of reasons, such as playing in a breaking side that leaves space to run into behind opposition defences. That was always his forte. Getting conditioned correctly makes a big difference too and of course it is hard to imagine that Jose Mourinho hasn’t got something to do with it on a personal and professional level. If it was a simple as an arm around the shoulder, others could have and certainly have tried it before, so don’t fall for the simplest explanations. Obviously some serious football wisdom and understanding was needed to get our number nine looking like he could terrorise any defence around once again, so well done to the staff for seeing just what buttons to press.
In the middle of it all there are two things that are worth remembering. First was the missed chance in the first half that he blazed over the bar when he was one-on-one with Joe Hart. His reaction to it was perfect, the head didn’t go down, the work rate if anything increased and the belief didn’t waiver. So congratulations Fernando for having the strength of character to react in the right way, not to hide but to face the critics up, just as he has done ever since he joined the club.
The other thing that definitely helped was the reaction of the Chelsea fans. The backing for him was phenomenal, especially just after he missed that chance. I can tell you as someone who benefited directly from the positivity of the Chelsea fans when I was having a difficult day, hearing your name being sung with such vigour is the most effective way to boost confidence that is in danger of flagging. So well done to the team in this major test of character but well done to the fans as well, it just might be that the level and volume of the support was the final thing that got us over the line and delivered the three points…that and some pretty hilarious comedy defending of course.
Oh yeah, and there is a game on tonight v Arsenal. This is of course a trophy Jose has a personal feeling for and it should be an interesting and almost impossible one to predict…until we see the teams. Keeping the fine run going however will do us no harm whatsoever, no matter who starts.
Last week I wanted to know if there was any player who had played for Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Well of course there was and most of you knew Nicolas Anelka had starred for each. There was of course the hugely missed David Rocastle who was another correct answer and Clive Allen at a push could be considered to have played for all three as well, even if his time at Arsenal was very limited indeed. From the many right answers, one was chosen randomly and it was from Ray Gallagher from Manchester.
This week to have a chance of winning a Season Review DVD signed by one of the players, could you tell me what was Chelsea’s highest ever winning score line in a League Cup match – in any of its many guises? I am looking for a single game, not two legs or inclusive of replays. Quite a tough one I think. Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org