Pat Nevin: Happy days
column Tue 16 May 2017
Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin was there at the Bridge last night for the champions’ homecoming, and it had him thinking about the near future and further ahead…
The home of the champions was rocking last night for a celebration party that started long before the game and lasted long afterwards. Actually this celebration started the moment Michy scored and is unlikely to really stop until the end of the season. That is one of the joys of wrapping the title up early is that the fans can milk every moment in every game right to the end. The home game against Sunderland will be just the same, the result bordering on irrelevant in the wider scheme of things but the fun continuing in a very relaxed way after the tension of the season.
You could see the relaxation in the team against Watford with moments of sparkling play, with understandably the odd lapse in concentration here and there. There was a move in the second half that was spellbinding as the ball zipped between Blues players, ending up with a shot that Michy almost netted. It seemed to rile Watford a bit and they started throwing their considerable collective weight around. It wasn’t however ‘mickey taking’ on the part of Chelsea, it was just a joyous display of their capabilities, that was all the easier now the pressure was gone and the shackles were off. Prodl and co. didn’t see it that way and to be honest that is fine with me. They aren’t there to patsies, they are there to be professional footballers, playing with pride and trying to win.
Maybe a bigger problem was that they could not get within five yards of Willian who was on absolutely sparkling form, while Eden toyed with their defence at will. As a player you do not enjoy being the makeweights at someone else’s party, the light entertainment there to make up the numbers. I well remember playing at the Bridge against Liverpool when they beat us 1-0 to win the league. So they win the league and they were the story, and Kenny Dalglish took the headlines, but I was fuming. First they were lucky that day, we deserved a draw at the very least and also I didn’t like them cavorting around on our patch! They had every right to do so at the end, in fact my reaction was pretty irrational, but there were a lot of Chelsea-minded folk around that day who felt that same irrational fury.
Happily, it is all a distant memory now and the odd bruise apart, our lads danced around the pitch at the end with another win and the second title in three years, confirming the notices of the death of Chelsea as a force in the game have been a bit premature. Even as the entertainment flowed as well as the seven goals, part of the collective mindset was projecting forward.
Was that JT’s last goal for the Blues? If so it was great to see him get it so close to the end of his time here as our skipper. How many of those players chosen will be featuring more frequently for us next season? Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma, Nathaniel Chalobah, Kenedy - without forgetting the unfortunately injured on the night Ruben Loftus-Cheek, will they continue to improve or will new players come in. Well they will, but who will they be and how many? How many loan players will be back to stake a claim after their education on a variety of loans comes to an end? Andreas Christensen, Tammy Abraham and a huge number of others will be waiting for the call and hoping.
I was thinking about all these questions while I should have been concentrating on the Hornets, their stinging tackles intermittently waking me from my reverie. It isn’t the time to be thinking of that unless you are the manager or the team that considers acquisitions for the club. The furthest we should be projecting forward is Wembley in less than a fortnight. Arsenal have got a bit of form back at last so it will be a contest in the season’s most glamourous domestic game.
Arsenal are secondary in my thoughts, the real question is which team will Antonio pick? The bench will probably be harder to choose than 10 members of the first team. There is a lot of thought and consideration. JT? He did score this week after all, but what about Ake. It is a big disappointment not to be stripped for a final I would imagine (I was lucky, I always started in my Wembley appearances) instead stuffed in a smart suit uncomfortable on a hot day.
The gaffer will make those calls but then what about the Pedro or Willian choice? That is a tough one though it pales when you consider how much time will be spent considering the relative merits of starting with Nemanja Matic or Cesc Fabregas. Arsenal’s midfield wouldn’t fancy winning against Kante and Matic in a battle, but it seems set up for Cesc considering the form he is in and that it is against his old club. The size of the pitch at Wembley would suit Cesc’s passing, but might it be better to hold him in reserve for the second half to exploit tiring opponents?
I suspect we have the right man making those decisions. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench in the semi and coming on to destroy Spurs. Michy coming on to win us the league at West Brom, and even Cesc rising from the bench to score the winner against Watford. Antonio’s substitutions have been superb this season, but they appear to be getting even better as the big calls have to be made at the end of the season. I think I will stop second guessing and just trust in the gaffer.