Pat Nevin: Spiralling into control
column Tue 9 May 2017
Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin has been watching a Blues team on the up, and now he hopes to see that turned into something tangible very soon…
Last night felt less like a football game and more like a procession as Chelsea turned on the style to ease towards the Premier League title. Anyone watching and hoping for a slip up probably gave up even before the first goal. Marcus Alonso hitting the bar in the opening moments and the utter domination of possession made it clear this was not a night when the Blues were going to freeze, or take their collective feet off the accelerator.
Maybe Boro and Spurs fans thought that with everyone’s player of the year, N’Golo Kante, unavailable, Chelsea would be put off their stride but having as his replacement Cesc Fabregas was bordering on unfair. When it quickly became clear that Cesc was on a mission to control the game, the result was never in doubt. It was a question of how many. Cesc fancied making a chance every time he got on the ball and that was most of the time.
The crowd seemed similarly confident without ever being arrogant. That has been one of the signatures of this group this season, arrogance can lead to complacency and that usually comes unstuck in the Premier League. That has never been the case as the work-rate rarely drops when the opposition has the ball. They hunted in packs last night and even with the ball-winner-in-chief sat in the stands, Marcos Alonso, Fabregas, Victor Moses and particularly Nemanja Matic seemed to take offence when they weren’t in control of the ball.
For all that the players must be applauded for that attitude, it clearly stems from the manager and the ethics he instils and demands from everyone.
Another delightful factor was the speed and the intricacy of the passing. It was purposeful and sharp and impossible for Middlesbrough to live with. When you consider the shots on target, the bar being rattled twice and a whole host of crosses zipping across the visitors’ six-yard box pleading to be touched into the net, the 3-0 scoreline was far from a true reflection of the domination. Diego himself could have scored a hat-trick had his studs been half-an-inch longer.
As everyone knows, the title is now only a win away. In fact there is a decent argument Chelsea might not need any more points as Spurs have a much tougher fixture list and their hearts must be verging on broken as it all seems to be happening again for them.
It really has been a fabulous couple of weeks with wins against Spurs, Southampton, Everton and Middlesbrough, 14 goals scored and such expansive football played. In fact this could be the best spell of play from the team all season and that is saying something! It means this little period could even be eclipsed over the next few weeks if they can keep the form going. Nothing has been won yet and Antonio will be drumming that in to anyone who will listen. It is however great to be on an upward spiral, playing as well and looking as fit as at any point in the past couple of years, just as the crescendo approaches.
The consideration now is of course trying to get the league won as quickly as possible. I have heard it said that a draw against West Brom on Friday and winning the title back at the Bridge would be the preferred option but that will not be the feeling within the camp. You just want it won as soon as possible to relieve any residual pressure. It is also good to give the manager the option of resting players before the cup final if he can and if he wants to.
Some players do not want rested. Indeed some need to play every single week to keep sharp but the manager will watch training closely if we win it on Friday, to see just who needs a little breather or even a chance to let a niggling injury clear up.
That is all ifs and buts. Tony Pulis and his team will be their usual stuffy, stoical selves. No team likes to watch an opponent win the league on their patch, it is a pride thing and it never goes away. I still dislike the fact that Liverpool once won the league at Stamford Bridge in my time here. It was a fairytale for Dalglish and his team, but I would rather it had happened anywhere else than on our ground.
So expect another battle but also expect Chelsea to give it everything. With any luck the next time I write here it will be in praise of the champions and deserved champions at that.