Pat Nevin: Quality counts

Having totted up the goals and the successful substitutions made on Saturday, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin is looking forward to the midweek meeting between his two former clubs…


After a previous season of something approaching predictability, well as much predictability as you can get in football, this season has been different in comparison. So far there have not been the relaxed winning streaks and runs of clean sheets with no injuries, suspensions or team changes generally. In its place has been something altogether more nerve-racking and oddly, I am getting a weird sort of enjoyment from it. Not only can you not guess the level of performance from game to game, it swings incredibly within games and even within halves.

I was commentating for the BBC on Saturday and 10 minutes after half-time (and remember we had been 1-0 up seconds before the break) the score could have easily been 4-1 to the visitors, though it was actually only 2-1. I had to be honest about our situation and how we were playing. For that short spell I couldn’t see a way for Chelsea to win the game and probably most Chelsea fans there felt the same. A few substitutions later and suddenly the prospect of a third defeat in a row in the league was a distant memory.

In the future the statistics books will note a 4-2 win that will sound pretty routine. It was however anything but that. Like Burnley and Crystal Palace before them, let’s give some credit to Watford for being brave enough to have a go. There was no sign of any inferiority complex from Marco Silva’s side as they controlled possession for large parts of the first half. Maybe he did let the high level of belief he has in his team slip with a slightly negative substitution, but although I thought they were a bit over-physical, I was pretty impressed.

I was walking along the street after the game on my way to a Chelsea supporters’ club meeting when I was pleasantly accosted by some Watford fans and they seemed pretty confused. They had just lost 4-2 but felt pretty happy with their team’s performance. I made it worse for them by explaining that I had been to see their side twice this season and the aggregate score is 10-2 against them (Man City hit them for six remember). In both cases they actually played quite well, so we agreed that the problem is actually me, I am their jinx and should not come back to see them any time soon.

In reality, the cause is much simpler and much more sensible. The top teams such as Man City and Chelsea have players who can do something extra special even if the team isn’t playing at its best as a unit, or indeed if the opposition are playing well themselves. So against Roma, the Italian side had the bigger percentage of possession and the Blues were under the cosh, but Eden Hazard had the capability to do something a bit special to salvage a vital point with his flicked header. The crossed ball into the area was top quality too and that is the point, the quality only needs to shine through briefly sometimes.

Against Watford it was eerily similar in the way Michy Batshuayi flicked in a header from almost precisely the same spot to help us get three points from yet another fabulous right-sided cross. So in the blink of an eye what could have been a very painful week now has a positive sheen. The point against Roma keeps us top in the Champions League group and the three against Watford kept us in the chasing pack in the Premier League.

In the midst of it all, the substitutions and the tactical changes made by Antonio Conte yet again worked so well that it was almost funny, unless you are a Watford fan of course. Willian is introduced and he is involved in the equaliser and crosses brilliantly for 3-2. Davide Zappacosta comes on and his pace on the right leads to a goal and is also a big part in that 3-2 goal for Cesar Azpilicueta. Michy Batshuayi is brought on for Alvaro Morata to a few raised eyebrows, he immediately scores two goals and looks unstoppable in front of the posts. Actually, as I have mentioned here before, I have a suspicion he is generally unstoppable when you provide him with chances, even if his all-round play isn’t always quite to the standard of Alvaro. There have been plenty of great poacher strikers like that and they are priceless. 

If all that isn’t good enough, Antonio moves Cesar Azpilicueta to the left-hand side and he pops up at the back post for that header to give the team the lead with three minutes left of the 90. I mean Gaffer, there is clever and there is downright ridiculous! Actually, in the press conference afterwards Antonio did laugh and admit that sometimes you have to be lucky with substitutions. 

The stand-out moment was of course the manager diving into the crowd once more when we went into the lead. That moment felt just like last season. The excitement and the passion was on show and scoring seven goals in two games is certainly worth celebrating.

For all that positivity, I still think most Chelsea fans have the same feeling, it has not been comfortable since the Atletico Madrid away game and there have been too many goals lost in that period to be relaxed.

I read a quote the other day which I intend to use very regularly from now on: ‘For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, direct, understandable and wrong!’

It just means people find it easy to grab at one thing when there is usually more complexity involved. I do almost always agree with this, even when talking about our current form, but I would still have to accept that maybe one point more than any other is the root cause. We are missing N’Golo Kante. It may be simple, direct and understandable but this time it is almost certainly right too.

Everton arrive tomorrow again and I have absolutely no idea what kind of line-up either side will send out, but with the way things have been going of late I would pretty much guarantee goals and excitement. For once, I am really looking forward to a game between my two old clubs and maybe a chance to see some more youngsters in a first team shirt.