Pat Nevin: We do know what we’re doing
column Tue 25 Apr 2017
Columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin hails the boss’s management of our latest game and N’Golo Kante’s major personal honour…
Oh ye of little faith, or should that be me of little faith? As the teams were delivered on the Sabbath from on high, I like many Chelsea fans thought we had gone from slight underdogs to clear outsiders. Spurs on fabulous form in the league and looking super confident, this could go very wrong, or so it seemed for the first three minutes anyway.
It was in the end another masterclass by the manager Antonio Conte. At the game, a light aircraft flew overhead at Wembley proclaiming ‘Antonio! Antonio!’. If ever there was a sign from the heavens that we should believe, maybe that was it.
I had mentioned on Chelsea TV beforehand that Spurs weakness was behind the full-backs/wing-backs as they push forward slightly too bullishly too often. Antonio had spotted that and the pace of Pedro, Victor Moses and Willian terrorised them in those areas on the break. In fact, the first two goals came from precisely those areas. Spurs may have had plenty of the ball, but in reality they had plenty of corners but precious few chances against a well-drilled defence. In fact, they scored from their two good chances, while a flick header from Eric Dier seemed the only other hair-raising moment.
I had also droned on about the danger of Christian Eriksen and his delivery was spectacular again against us. He has made four and scored one against Chelsea this season, so it is him not Dele Alli or Harry Kane you really need to stop if you are going to blunt Spurs. Back to the hair-raising moments, there were none from our big-haired centre-backs David Luiz and Nathan Ake. David got many people’s man of the match award and he really did show fantastic composure, passion and leadership qualities, but that comes as no surprise to some of us who have always banged the drum for the Brazilian.
Maybe more surprising for some was the assured play from Nathan Ake on one of his rare starts for the club. Personally I had no fear whatsoever about him coming in for this one, but it still seemed like a breakthrough performance. I suspect Antonio will not think twice about starting him more often from now on. Nathan has grown in stature massively since his time at Bournemouth so what might have been considered an area that had to be thought carefully about over the summer might just slip down the order of importance, especially when you consider the imminent availability of Andreas Christensen as well. Nathan gives us other options as well at full-back, midfield and maybe even wing-back, but it would appear he is most at home just where he played at Wembley.
The next moment of genius was when the ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic was delivered when Eden, Diego and Cesc were brought on to the field. Tottenham were gobsmacked, but not as gobsmacked as everyone else (particularly Kurt Zouma from the video below) when Nemanja Matic hammered home one of the great FA Cup goals.
Spurs looked crestfallen and there is no doubt it could have a significant effect on them going forward in the league. They wanted to show up Chelsea’s weaknesses and instead those 90 minutes at Wembley underlined that Chelsea have vast reserves of quality and personality to draw on, at least the equal of any other side in the league.
The league is of course where we turn now with the visit of Southampton tonight. It is never easy but the team and the fans will turn up for this one with the knowledge that Chelsea playing close to their best should be good enough to gain the three points and pile that pressure on Tottenham for tomorrow night. There are a couple of big decisions to be made considering team selection and none is bigger than this - do you or don’t you start Willian after his two goals in the semi-final?
Pedro, Eden, Willian and even Cesc, do any of these players really deserve to be left out of the team for this vital game? In the simplest terms it is a bonus for the manager because it gives him tactical and personnel options throughout the game. There probably isn’t a right or wrong decision on this one, but whatever it is the trust in the manager is very strong. When you decide to leave Diego Costa and Hazard on the bench and it turns out to be a great decision, then as I have said many times this season, it is probably just worth trusting the boss! The biggest deal is to get the players coming on to retain the right frame of mind and that has been consistent under Antonio. He makes it look easy, it isn’t but it is the sign of a top manager that he keeps the entire group motivated.
There are a multitude of big moments in any season, especially one when you are challenging for the title, but the win at the weekend could well be among the biggest, even if it was in the cup. It is the message it sent to the rest that resonates most, but specifically the effect on Spurs. Contrary to Spurs hopes, Chelsea might not be fading after all, but Spurs could if they have to suffer watching the run of Blues wins rolling on.
So tonight should be a pretty good game, Southampton aren’t realistically going to be dragged into the relegation dog fight so they might as well have a bit of a go. Chelsea fans, some of whom will not have been at the semi-final at Wembley will be keen to toast the team again. They will also be relishing the final now against Arsenal, most of us wanted it to be the Gunners rather than Man City for a variety of reasons.
There will also be the chance to applaud N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard for getting winner and second place at the PFA Player of the Year awards ceremony. In reality it was always going to be N’Golo, he has been unfeasibly good this season. It is clearly the individual trophy every player in the Premier League wants to win above all others and it is good to see a fine player with none of the flash, self-selling attributes sometimes seen with certain stars getting the recognition. In times when celebrity, social media presence and brash loudness seem to count for everything, N’Golo shows that simply being a great player is, and should be, good enough to succeed.