Pat Nevin: Much to admire

As tough opposition were overcome on Sunday, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin was pleased with what he witnessed throughout the team, as writes in this week’s column…

There had been furrowed brows, worried glances and concerned conversations among supporters. Something appeared to have been misplaced, hopefully not lost entirely, but certainly not in clear sight for most of the fans. The Chelsea spirit we have grown used to had been conspicuous by its absence of late, maybe in the second half over in Rome it was more obvious than at any other time and it was confounding.

Fortunately every scintilla of this squad’s spirit was right there and in your face from the first minute on Sunday against Manchester United, and a rather large communal sigh of relief was exhaled all round. The tactics were perfectly fine too, the boss seeing that a 3-5-1-1 would be a more stable structure at this precise moment. The return to form and to availability of a few big names doubtless helped in the mix as well and the group dynamic was, well dynamic. For all that you still needed to see the desire, the spirit and willingness to put every effort into every challenge and every run if we were going to see off United, and the lads certainly showed that.

It was all there and it was just too much for Jose’s men to deal with, 1-0 was a very flattering score for them I felt. If we show the same spirit going forward then any concerns about qualification from our Champions League group stage will disappear very quickly and the battle to stay at least in the top four in the Premier League will also be a foregone conclusion.

There were so many positives in terms of performances as well of course and you could do a lot worse than start with considering Alvaro Morata who suddenly rediscovered his stunning form from before his injury.

Three United centre-backs working together couldn’t get close to dealing with him. The skill, the power, the pace and the vision were from somewhere well above the very top drawer. After his recent missed chances and his substitutions, it could be something as simple as having full match-fitness again at last and total belief that the injury to his hamstring was not about to suddenly resurrect its ugly head.

If you look at the core of the team it was all rather exceptional. N’Golo Kante obviously made a huge difference with no perceptible change in his levels of fitness, tackling quality or general ability after a month long lay-off. It adds to the theory he may in fact not be altogether built like the rest of us human beings.      

The other part of that core which must be applauded right away is of course Andreas Christensen. A more assured confident and mature performance you will rarely see from a 21-year-old defender. He has played well when given his opportunities already this season but this was a level above and it makes it hard to imagine Antonio Conte leaving him out any time soon if he plays to anything like that level. 

At Stamford Bridge we know the importance of a good core to a team; Terry, Lampard and Drogba were not too bad for that, were they? It is not a case of comparing those three at the weekend with the aforementioned club legends, that would be grossly unfair, but in that Alvaro is 25, N’Golo is 26, both coming into their primes, and Andreas at 21 has over a decade at the top in front of him, there is the possibility this could be the start of something special and something very long-term as well.

In the midst of storming performances from everyone else in the side, I was also intrigued by the 23-year-old Tiemoue Bakayoko’s contribution. He did give the ball away more than was comfortable and he got booked again, but we could see in that performance a power and energy that could well become an unstoppable force in the months and years to come. There were many who questioned the release of Nemanja Matic to United and I understand their point, but in reality having watched them face up against each other I think the younger man in blue (including the hair) clearly won the battle on the day and there is a very good chance he is the man for the future. His breaking into the box from deep was extraordinary, leaving everyone else in his wake and although he didn’t finish that well, the important thing is he got himself into those incredible positions. In fact he probably got into more scoring positions than any other player on the field on the day.

His heat map shows how much time he spent getting into the opponents ‘D’ just outside the area.

It all goes to show the silliness of the media madness that surrounds clubs and indeed managers right now. Before this game, apparently Spurs were having a phenomenal season and Chelsea were seriously struggling. Well if that is what a one-point difference in the league table means then I am just going to continue to ignore that sort of hyperbole. Spurs were great against Real Madrid, I was there to witness it, but extreme negativity elsewhere so early in the season is all a bit ridiculous. Be concerned yes, but panic is not helpful or indeed sensible this early as any team can have a little dip in form at any time.

Of course we know newspapers have to sell their copy and click bait is the methodology used by just about anyone online trying to sell something, but I guess we should be above that most of the time by now.

So it’s time to enjoy the international break, unless you are a Scot like me and you will be sitting twiddling your thumbs. Most importantly, the last break cost us N’Golo for a month. I just hope that everyone is back fit for the West Brom game. If so then Antonio will finally have a full complement to pick from this season and that I assure you will be worrying just about everyone else in the league.