Pat Nevin: Top plan and top man
column Tue 7 Feb 2017
How the derby was won and a world-class finisher finishing are occupying Pat Nevin’s thoughts as he writes this week’s column…
Where to start about last week? It is a tough one as there were so many positives. The only real negative was not getting the three points at Anfield that Diego Costa’s penalty would have provided had he scored, but no one is complaining of course. Diego’s work rate and goals have been phenomenal and he has won us so many points already that it would be beyond churlish to complain.
It all seems pretty sweet after what was on paper the most challenging little period of the season. I say on paper because Arsenal were supposed to turn up at the Bridge and give us a seriously hard time of it. To be honest, it never really materialised even if they did squeeze high up the pitch in the opening minutes. They got a bit excited by the fact that because Chelsea were playing from the back, it gave them a couple of little sniffs, but they were running straight into a trap set by Antonio.
Usually when we play at the Bridge teams sit back and there is no space for our own attackers to run into. If you can entice the opposition out a bit, by let’s say knocking it around in your own area for a bit instead of hammering it up to Diego from the keeper every time, then maybe they will creep forward. If the Arsenal attackers then chase into your area, their midfielders must back them up and then their defenders must push up to the halfway line. Now to be fair, Arsenal had to win this game so they were keen to get control, but leaving half of Stamford Bridge free for our players to attack seemed to be bordering on naïve.
Even though they pushed on and we had just a couple of clear-cut chances in the first half other than the Marcos Alonso goal, I said on Chelsea TV at half-time there is no danger here. The reason was we kept on breaking into those wide open spaces and just failing with the final ball. This simply would not continue to happen; we have good players who were always going to develop those situations eventually. On top of that Arsenal would have to keep pressing as they were a goal down; it must have been crushing for the Arsenal fans, the players and the manager.
Still that will not hugely concern Chelsea fans to be brutally honest, we will just look ahead at what now looks like a very promising run of games that we are well capable of getting a whole bunch of points from. Of course it helps we haven’t the European distractions that others have, and right now is exactly when that advantage starts to pay off.
Spurs are currently our nearest rivals but they have to deal with Gent in the Europa League as well as the small matter of travelling to Anfield this weekend. Klopp’s men will not be delighted at falling out of the top four this week and the thought of Man United and Jose hovering just a point behind them will have the same effect as a jockey’s whip on his mount. Man City will have to get ready for Monaco in the coming weeks and I will be popping over to Munich to catch Arsenal at Bayern. Once again, Arsenal reach the business end of the season looking at their weakest and this will stress them even further.
I have to say I was surprised by Arsenal’s weakness at the weekend. It may partly be down to having a few key players missing or off form but these are things you need to deal with. What is noticeable about the Blues’ form is it has been steady throughout and injuries have been minimal of late, and most of us looking at the bench aren’t exactly living in fear of the odd tweaked hamstring anyway. The back-up is phenomenal. Indeed it is almost offensive to call the likes of Cesc, Willian, Pedro and JT back-up players when they don’t start. Cesc is playing some of the best football he has ever played but can’t get a start every week.
Also, on their current form, where else would Willian and Pedro be lying in bed the night before the game wondering if they will be starting the next day? There are only a very few teams on the planet where that would be the case. Keeping them hungry and happy(ish) is the difficulty but Antonio is doing a great job in that area this season.
One guy who never failed to be hungry is Frank Lampard and it would be impossible to ignore his retirement from playing this week. I will not say anything that most people reading this do not know or feel about the man already.
Again it would be a disservice to simply call him one of Chelsea’s greats. He is in a group that is in a very rarefied atmosphere. For many, he may actually be the greatest ever Chelsea player and I probably wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone who said that. He is without a doubt up there when you consider his goals, assists, work-rate, longevity, bravery, fitness, attitude, professionalism, success, trophies, effect on others, selflessness, popularity, adaptability, all-round good guy-ness, and I could go on.
Actually I will go on, his passing range was hugely underrated, mostly because he was usually getting on the end of moves where it hurts instead of spraying the ball from deep midfield himself. In fact, he was as perfectly capable of a pinpoint 50-yarder as the best of them, and he showed that when he dropped back a bit in the very final period of his Chelsea career. For all that, he had one quality which for me was not only world-class at the time, but the best I have ever witnessed in any player.
His one-touch finishing looked so easy and natural it sometimes got overlooked. Next time you see any random bunch of Frank Lampard goals on TV, count just how many of them were one-touch finishes (Chelsea TV show some in the video below).
It is an incredible skill to have the timing and the ability to almost always get your body into a position where you can steer the ball goalward, at pace, without taking a controlling touch or two first. He was a phenomenon. If you would have told me many years ago when I was playing that Kerry Dixon and Bobby Tambling’s goalscoring feats would be overshadowed, I would have struggled to believe you. If you had said it would be done by a midfielder, I would have said you are a fool who knows nothing about football. Frank made a fool of many and is indeed no fool himself, being exceptionally intelligent as well. Actually, now that I write all that I reckon he sounds rather annoyingly perfect, but somehow he still stays likeable and cool.
So what of the future? Well I hope he isn’t lost to the game but who knows what will be next. There have even been rumours of Hollywood beckoning for Frankie boy and I hear they will be looking for a new James Bond pretty soon. You wouldn’t put it past him.