Assistant first team coach Steve Holland took on media conference duties at Cobham on Friday afternoon as the squad gears up to facing Sunderland this weekend, and with immense rewards available if Chelsea win all our remaining matches, he discussed the need to get small details correct in the coming weeks.
That is especially the case when it comes to team selection, as the need for a winning formula must be balanced with avoiding fatigue, but there is plenty of experience in the coaching staff and a blend of youth and know-how in the squad, and much thought and preparation is going in to the first task of taking three points from our meeting with Gustavo Poyet’s side.
‘Sunderland were excellent in the week at Man City and were minutes away from being only the second team in the Premier League to win there this season, so tomorrow will be a very difficult game,’ Holland told the assembled reporters.
‘We have to approach it in a professional manner. This game is of huge importance. I personally don’t subscribe to the view that this league title will be decided by one match. There are enough difficult games left for all the clubs to suggest there may be other “curve balls” thrown in.’
Holland said he would be lying if claimed Sunderland’s draw away at Man City on Wednesday night hadn’t prompted a few text message exchanges between players and staff with a positive reaction.
‘I am sure that was the same elsewhere when we dropped points the other week at Selhurst Park,’ he added, ‘and it will be the same at each club over the next month.’
The clear difference Chelsea have compared with Liverpool and Manchester City over the coming days is our contesting of two big competitions.
‘We have the circumstances we have, and we are used to playing a lot of matches at this stage of the season,’ Holland said.
‘I remember when Roberto [Di Matteo] was the manager here we played Tottenham on a Sunday evening in an FA Cup semi-final. We then played Barcelona on the Wednesday, then Arsenal on the Saturday at the Emirates in what was then a vital game for fourth place, and then Barcelona in the Nou Camp on the Tuesday.
‘We looked at that block of games and to have any chance in the Nou Camp, something had to give in that period. In the end we made eight changes for Arsenal and we still drew the game. It is a really challenging period not just physically but also emotionally, you have to experience it to appreciate what it does take out of the players because it is so big. But it is something we have dealt with before, we have a good squad and we have to do it again.
‘You try to make the decision that gives you freshness in the last game of the block, and it will be the consideration this time, the balance we have to find. This time there is less scope in the middle game, the Liverpool game, than two years ago, and getting that balance right will be decisive in whether we are successful or not.
‘This club’s objective at the start of a season is to be competing for the major honours at the business end, and those small details are decisive in the end.
‘We have as much desire to win the Premier League as we do the Champions League. The full focus at the moment is Sunderland tomorrow and trying to put out the best team possible that we think will have success in that game, and then first thing on Sunday morning our minds are onto Atletico.’
Holland highlighted the difference for Chelsea by pointing out the continuity Liverpool have been able to achieve in selecting more or less the same six attacking and midfield players for their last 14 games, apart from on four occasion when Joe Allen has been involved.
‘That is much harder to do when you play twice a week because you have to use a pool of players and rotate them, and in this situation that really is the trick – you have to pick the right ones for the right games but keep the continuity for the team.
‘You are aware the more changes you make the more likely it is for things not to go the way you would like them to go, but you do have to have half an eye on what is ahead of you, or you hit a wall and you don’t get the performance levels you are looking for.’
Helping to meet the challenge is the fact the squad is in good shape. Eden Hazard is the only member unavailable for tomorrow’s game.
The Belgian is recovering from a calf injury suffered in the home game against Paris Saint-Germain 10 days ago.
Holland, reporting on Hazard’s potential availability for Tuesday’s game away to Atletico Madrid, said:
‘I wouldn’t say he is definitely out at this stage but the fact he hasn’t yet trained with the rest of the group suggests he is a major doubt.’
The coach was also asked about media reports on John Terry and a possible new contract and emphasised that club policy is not to comment on an individual’s contract situation, but he added that the captain has had an outstanding season, he wants to stay and Chelsea want him to stay, and hopefully the situation can be concluded amicably over the next few weeks.
Holland also explained why he was the one speaking the pre-match conference.
‘Jose asked me if I would do it today and I am more than happy to do that. Jose over the season is very good and always answers the questions people want him to answer, and I am quite sure that opportunity will occur very soon.’