With just hours to go, there can only be one subject dominating the thoughts of Chelsea Legend Pat Nevin in this week’s column – the Paris match and what needs to happen for the Blues…
It comes almost as some sort of shock when Chelsea actually lose two games in a row; it has not exactly been a regular occurrence. Obviously the Paris St-Germain defeat wouldn’t have been that bad but for the last-minute sucker punch that really changed the complexion of the tie. Although we will as a team and as a club look at the defending through gaps in our fingers, as a former winger I have to say I was very impressed with the quick feet of Pastore, not only at his goal but throughout his short, cameo appearance.
It just underlines how concentrated we have to be for this tie tonight. PSG are dangerous from a number of areas even if Laurent Blanc’s team are, in my opinion, still quite some distance off being serious contenders to win the competition. With no Zlatan, it does give Cavani the chance to retract the bottom lip somewhat and play in his favoured central role. His understanding with Lavezzi (pictured below) is of course pretty special, but why wouldn’t it be if someone is giving you that quality of service?
Maybe that is the biggest danger for me. Lavezzi’s corners and free kicks are lethal. Elsewhere on the website I did an analysis of how best you combat this type of pacy, flat cross from wide areas. In short, get a man or two in front of him, even if it is a corner kick. The blocker(s) have to be a maximum of 10 yards from the ball, and with any luck a run and a jump just as Lavezzi is striking the ball. This will ensure he doesn’t have a totally flat trajectory to the near post, which cost us so much bother as well as a goal in the first leg.
With any luck Chelsea will have another clean sheet at the Bridge and if we manage that, then 2-0 is still very do-able for us. I am sure the French side will have taken note of our fantastic defensive record at home and realised this tie is a long way from being over. They will also have noticed that this weekend had a few positives for us. Certainly Willian looked right at home in that central attacking midfield position, in fact he looked more than at home, he looked brilliant. Oscar was rested, so with any luck he will not only be available but also bursting with energy and vigour. It may well be a toss-up between the two in who fills that vital ‘No. 10’ role.
Also interesting was the body language of Eden Hazard when he came on, any little signs of weariness that had crept into his game over the past few weeks were banished as he seemed back to his scintillating sharpest best when he came on as substitute. He even managed to make me, and no doubt plenty of other Chelsea fans, laugh out loud when just as David Luiz diligently lined up to take a free-kick at goal from about 40 yards out; he nicked in and played a short pass out to the wing. Excellent banter.
There was a verve and a positivity about the play against Stoke City which was badly needed to restore belief and confidence before these, the most important 90 minutes (maybe 120 minutes!) of the season so far. I also think that Salah’s pace seemed to make a big difference, frightening the life out of the Stoke defence and forcing them to sit back much deeper than they would otherwise have wanted to do, so it is a shame our Egyptian is not available for this one. There is however enough ability in the team to do it, even though it is accepted that Chelsea are second favourites before kick-off. I actually thought we should be second favourites in the tie form the day the draw was made, but after watching PSG, they haven’t quite progressed as far as I thought they had.
In short we have a chance, but it has to be one of those special Stamford Bridge Champions League nights. It is a night when every fan is needed at full volume from start to finish. It is a night when the players have to play well individually and collectively from start to finish. A night when the right tactics have to be chosen and we then have to get a little sprinkling of luck on top as well. There have been so many nights when we haven’t had that extra final little ingredient, usually involving a referee’s eyesight/capabilities and the luck has deserted us. Generally however you make your own good fortune, so let’s hope that is the case this time.
I try not to go on about referees, but really how long can we continue to accept the daftness of not using video technology to allow teams to challenge contentious decisions (even if it is only a couple per match so that the game is allowed to flow?)The list of vital incorrect decisions in the Premier League run in is getting very long indeed now; Willian getting sent off v Villa, the Gibbs/Oxlade-Chamberlain fiasco at the Bridge, I was at Man City v Southampton at the weekend and the second City goal was so far offside it was almost out of the ground.
Even Liverpool had to suffer the indignity of losing a goal v West Ham just before half-time, while the big screen in the corner of the ground was showing the challenge by Andy Carroll on Mignolet meaning that it clearly should have been chalked off. Everybody knew except the referee! Liverpool got their free penalty to even it up, but that just compounded the daftness of it all. I hope one of these nonsensical decisions doesn’t make the difference between Chelsea qualifying for the Champions League semis tonight, I’d rather go out with disappointment and resignation for a change rather than furious fuming anger…yet again.
Last week I wondered if you could tell me, who did Frank Lampard score his first competitive European goal against for Chelsea?There were quite a few suggestions for this one. Many thought it was Lazio in 2003, but a few figured out that Levski Sofia in September 2001 was more likely. There were a few who answered FC Jokerit of Finland who Frank did score against in the Intertoto Cup in 1999, but of course it wasn’t for Chelsea but for West Ham. So Levski it is and only 50 got it right this week, a very low number so it must have been a tough question, pat yourself on the back if you got it. If your name is Stephen Osborne from New Hampshire, USA however, a fist pump is allowed because you are the lucky winner.
This week to have a chance of being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me who has scored most Champions League goals in a single season for Chelsea, and how many were scored? On this occasion I am willing to include qualifiers too if appropriate. Answers as ever to me at email@example.com
Good luck to you and as ever to the team against PSG.