With the Blues continuing to compete on two fronts this season, columnist and former Chelsea star Pat Nevin turns his attention towards France, and our next Champions League challenge…
Let’s just start at the end today. Last week’s quiz question asked how long it was since another English team lasted longer than Chelsea in European competition? The answer was back in the 2010/11 season when Manchester United put us out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League before going on to get beaten up by Barcelona in the final. Since then we have won the Champions League and then, last season, the Europa League. Obviously no one else lasted longer during those seasons.
It is safe to say United are now regarded as a far less impressive team, in fact they are widely accepted as being at the very start of a major rebuilding process, a process I suspect will take quite some time and one huge wad of cash. Similarly Chelsea are clearly in the midst of a rebuild after the most successful period in the club’s history. It might take a little while but in the meantime the club hasn’t really fallen very far, has it? The two European trophies suggest not and succeeding during transition is one of the trickiest feats in football.
There is even an argument to say that we have improved from last season. Is quarter-finals of the Champions League a higher level than winning the Europa League? This season also sees a worthwhile attempt at the title, which compares pretty favourably with the last campaign. I mention all this because everyone is pretty down about the loss to Crystal Palace and the extreme blow it has dealt to our championship-winning hopes. The team will not give up, but it is now a long shot of course. This is partly due obviously to the fact that Liverpool and Manchester City are in such strong form at the moment.
Talking about those two, how do they fare in the rebuilding stakes mentioned above? Well City took quite a long time, in fact it was the 1970s when they were last a real force to be reckoned with and even with the new money coming in it has taken a while for them to get into such a powerful position. It is not however powerful enough even yet to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League of course.
So how about Liverpool’s rebuilding programme? Well, by my reckoning they are nearly two decades in to that as we speak, and they will tell you that there is a long way to go and they will be back at the very top. Whatever happens in the league they will be judged by how they fare in the Champions League next season.
This is the problem, more often than not, and definitely more often these days than ever before, everyone wants success right here, right now, whatever the circumstances. A sense of perspective has been lacking in some quarters regarding this season, though not from our manager. He has stuck steadfastly to his assessment that a little more time will be needed to build what he wants, time that I am sure we will all happily give him when the disappointment of Palace dissipates. I would hope Chelsea fans, and most others, are above publicity stunts like hiring a plane before a big match to complain when we haven’t won something for a season.
For these reasons I think the PSG tie is one simply to be enjoyed – oh and they would also claim to be rebuilding – but they started with something close to a clean slate and are a few years into the project now. They have plenty of world-class players, are on great form in their domestic league just as they were during the group section of the Champions League. I think this will be a totally absorbing tactical battle, particularly in this first game and I suspect it will be close.
When Chelsea have faltered of late away from home there has been one similarity. Against Stoke, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace our team had no option other than to go all out for a win. That is what happens when you are in a four-way chase for the league title, you have to go for broke. Each of those times we were caught by sucker punches against home sides that rolled with the punches for most of the game, this should not be the case in Paris. There is no need or expectation for Jose to go gung-ho in the first leg and that might just suit us better. It is up to PSG to try to get a lead to bring to London and that may give us a chance to play on the break.
As I write this late at night (actually early in the morning) I have just come home from covering the Sunderland loss to West Ham at the Stadium of Light. The Hammers as ever played their own simplistic but very effective brand of football. They had precious little of the play but at 2-0 up they almost made it three on one of their infrequent breaks upfield. The modern game isn’t all about playing on the break but it can be a lethal weapon that we may have to use in our favour this time. I hope it works as do we all, but I have to admit I am concerned about the Zlatan effect. If Ibrahimovic can be kept quiet then we have a great chance of going through but one look at his goals-to-games ratio in the Champions League this season (10 in seven) tells us this will not be easy.
The Swede will not be going to the World Cup and as such this is the competition where he wants to show the world he is one of the best in the business, in fact it is now bordering on a personal crusade for the striker. He is rightly considered one of the most talented players on the planet, but that particular competition is tough. Messi is on phenomenal form (nine goals in his last four games), Ronaldo has ridiculously brilliant numbers too (13 goals in seven Champions League games), so it is hard for Zlatan to feature in the argument, but I think he does even if he doesn’t win it!
With the quality still in the Champions League it is also going to be a tough one for us to stay in, but at least we are still in it and fighting, unlike most other British clubs…as usual.
Plenty of you got the quiz question right but there is only one winner allowed, so randomly chosen this time it is Cliff Rogers from Chichester.
This week to have a chance being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me who did Frank Lampard score his first competitive European goal against for Chelsea?Answers as ever to me at email@example.com Good luck to you and as ever to the team against PSG.