Pat Nevin: Intriguing games to come
column Tue 19 Sep 2017
On the back of a tight derby draw and with opportunities straight ahead in three different competitions, there is plenty to consider for Chelsea legend Pat Nevin in this week’s column…
There was a certain disappointment on Sunday when the team didn’t secure the three points against Arsenal. Maybe it was the fact that up until David Luiz saw red the Blues we getting an ever-stronger grip on the game and Arsenal had clearly settled for nothing more than a point. There was, however, something else and then of course I realised what it was. A game had finished 0-0 and Chelsea generally do not do scoreless draws.
As a double doughnut game goes, this was certainly one of the better ones. There was always intrigue and the upper hand changed throughout. Chelsea started well but Arsenal managed to finish the first half stronger. For the second half, Antonio Conte spotted the growing problem and with Pedro injured, introduced Tiemoue Bakayoko and all but nullified Arsenal’s threat in an instant.
We pretty much know that Antonio will quickly see a tactical problem and move to do something about it. Once again his change had the desired effect of stiffening up the midfield and wrestling back dominance and control. Arsenal had a little flurry at the end briefly, but that was more to do with the extra man.
It was in many respects a game for the connoisseurs, or chin-strokers if you are going to be less kind. The match-ups around the pitch led to what was in the end a classic stalemate. At times like that you need something different or something special and Eden Hazard’s cameo at the end showed us precisely what that was. For all that it has been a good run since the beginning of the season, it is times like these when you fully appreciate what Eden brings to the table. You can match up all over the pitch as much as you like but if someone dances past three players, your system and structure is smashed.
A fully fit Eden is probably what was needed on this specific occasion and I reckon that even though we only got to see a few of his dribbles and runs, it was quite a considerable step forward from his short appearance against Qarabag. You will doubtless have heard it a million times from ex-players but the only way to truly get match fitness is of course to play matches, preferably full matches in a competitive environment.
Against Qarabag, I could see that Eden knew exactly what to do but the explosive power was not quite there after going past the first couple of opponents. Fortunately, that will come back quickly and I for one am hoping that 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest tomorrow evening might just do the trick.
Having been at Watford to see Man City on Saturday it was a bit of an eye-opener as to the level Pep has got his team to this season. It is only one game (although they did score five against Liverpool as well I guess) but they were a joy to watch. That is the standard this season along with the power of Jose’s Man United and I do not think anyone would argue against the suggestion this is going to a hard league for anyone to win.
What is hopeful from a Chelsea point of view is that the back-up in the squad is looking so much stronger now than it did just a few games back. The summer acquisitions are clearly all perfectly capable of stepping into the first team, which makes me think that far from taking it easy in the domestic cups we will really be going for them this time. In the defence and defensive midfield there is a whole bunch of players who will be desperate to get more game time. Toni Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater when fit and even Tiemoue Bakayoko would all really want more minutes on the pitch to be at the top of their respective fitness.
So Nottingham Forest shouldn’t necessarily expect to line up against a very youthful line-up in the Carabao Cup. There are quite a few players who want anything but a rest at the moment. Michy Batshuayi is another having already got off the mark for us this season in the Champions League after scoring well in pre-season and notching regularly at the end of last season too. He wants as many sights of goal as possible. As a striker, you always want to stay sharp and once again that is all about game-time.
Tucked in nicely near the top of the Premier League, sitting top of the group in the Champions League, a win against Forest set us up for three of the most interesting and informative games of the season. Stoke away is always a litmus test of your passion. The 2-1 win there last season was as gritty as any performance on the way to picking up the title. This is followed by Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, two teams who would not surprise me if are in the Champions League semi-finals at the end of the season.
Antonio knows that many of his players will be needed to do a lot of different things in the next few weeks because of the very different tactical systems they will come up against. Sunday’s team against Arsenal was very similar in look and feel to the team that won the Premier League last season, however prepare for adaptations in the coming weeks. They have all had a year to look at what Chelsea are good at and will have formulated plans just as Arsenal did at the weekend, to overcome the Blues’ strengths. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing how Antonio solves the problems. Just as he did with Bakayoko at half-time on Sunday to change the game, he will be quick to twist, and hopefully he will also have an ace to pull out in Eden Hazard just when he is really needed.