Pat Nevin: Breaking it down

Former Blue Pat Nevin is in analytical mood as he writes with the weekend win fresh in his mind, and he decides goals scored are worthy of close scrutiny…


The overdue goal glut finally arrived at the weekend after a strangely unproductive period in front of the posts.

The first reason for them flying in was that it was pretty much bound to happen soon anyway. With the pressure and opportunities that have been served up recently in most of the games, the goals just had to flow. All it really took was a sharp start and on Saturday, it was getting towards a foregone conclusion as early as seven minutes into the game. Having said that, there were a few hair-rising moments. Willy Caballero could have had one when he made a brilliant save from a Tomer Hemed header at 2-0, but for obvious reasons it wasn’t hair raising for him at all! 

As was clear to anyone watching, Eden Hazard was in the mood on the day. I do feel we, and by that I mean any lover of football, should savour these special Hazard days. The effortless way he beats players when on this form is a rare talent these days, as is the willingness to get up and get on with it after being hacked, tripped, bumped and barged continually by a whole gang of frustrated defenders.

Actually, a little part of me has always understood that level of frustration felt by defenders. It is bad enough getting beaten, but being made to look ridiculous into the bargain when you are twisted into the ground, just adds insult to injury. Oddly I can remember a certain Stuart Pearce (for any kids reading, he was quite hard!) thumping me once down at the Bridge and me thinking to myself as I writhed on the ground that I probably deserved it on that occasion, for showing just a little too much sass when beating him a few moments earlier.

Eden was flying but even his sparkling performance might be squeezed into second place when we look back for a memory of the game. That is because in going 2-0 ahead, Chelsea managed to score one of the best goals, if not the best goal of the season. Breaking it down to its constituent parts it comes close to becoming a work of art.

Firstly, the front three set a perfect trap by closing high up the field, leaving only one option for the defender, a risky pass into midfield. It would be dangerous at the best of times but with N’Golo Kante in our midfield it is closer to recklessness. Kante wins it and we break forward a lightning speed and with a precision that makes opposition managers hold their hands up and say, ’You just can’t cope with that sort of quality’. 

Eden Hazard in full flight, taking the game to Brighton at the weekend

There is an eye-of-the-needle through ball from Willian to Eden Hazard, and from there the first touch from the Belgian is just stupidly good. Off balance, the ball coming to him at pace high and behind him, he still manages to get it under control with one touch and it falls to Michy Batshuayi. Michy lays it to Willian and if you stop the action there it is three against five and there should be no chance of a goal, but great play suddenly becomes genius.

Willian zips it into Eden who back heels delightfully at pace to Michy, who in turn flicks it behind himself onto Willian who has continued his run. How he knows that this is where the ball is going to end up after this blur of passes is anyone’s guess, but the touch from Michy is so delicate that Willian doesn’t need to break stride before smashing it into the net from 18 yards. 

ALL ANGLES: Willian's brilliant strike against Brighton

The goal took 11 seconds to score from winning the ball and eight passes, and as was perfectly pointed out by Ben Andrews on Chelsea TV in his commentary, Barcelona and Arsenal in their tika-taka pomp couldn’t have scored a better goal of that type. You can add Man City to that list if you like as they have also scored some great intricate passing goals this season, but was any single one of theirs better than this one by Chelsea? I doubt it.

There were other moments, particularly in the first half when the back-heel flicks and one-twos were seamlessly tearing Brighton apart and hopefully this will be the catalyst for the belief and fluidity returning to the frontline. Maybe one fly in the ointment is that if there is a team that is going to be ready for that specific play, then it is Arsenal who await tomorrow night.

The first leg of this cup-tie wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but that isn’t particularly uncommon in the first leg of a two-legged semi-final. It is often a phoney war, with both sides knowing that the real effort, the big moves and the big players will be readying themselves for the denouement in the second leg. Hopefully the topic isn’t VAR after the game this time but instead the skills and a few goals. A total of eight scored by the two sides at the weekend bodes well.

I did have a little waver over my strong support of VAR when I realised that the one thing I hadn’t quite factored into my support of it was who is running it.  

There were errors in the Norwich game regarding the penalty that Willian should have had and the yellow card he shouldn’t. You do need TV company-standard coverage and direction when you use VAR. Having worked in TV for nearly 20 years I know that every company in the market would have sorted it out better, quicker and vitally they would have got the call right. So yes, it is early days, and mistakes will be ironed out, but it is a job real TV professionals have been doing brilliantly for years.

I will now accept with grace the real concerns that my fellow columnist Giles Smith has on the system, but it will still work in the end and it will become de rigueur at the very top matches, whatever our personal thoughts are on it. In the meantime, there is a semi-final and with any luck another visit to Wembley on the horizon. Good luck to everyone, it would be grand to keep the run of silverware going.