So four days on and I feel a lot more optimistic. No major reason but the performance against Manchester United was woeful. Everyone is entitled to a bad game but the whole team was off colour (Kante excused). In addition to that our manager had a mare himself and all this led to a shambles on and off the pitch.
So why am I feeling optimistic? Well for me a team doesn’t go from the excellence we have shown to the depths we plummeted and stay there. A lot of the nervousness stems from who is in the rear wing mirror but here’s the thing, the closer they get the more difficult it will become for them. This time last year they were a mere 5 points behind Leicester and we know what happened. I am not belittling their recent run of form but there has been not one iota of pressure on them. Added to which 91 other teams would like to be where we are at this moment.
Much has been made about the “huge” effect the semi final will have on the run in. I do not agree. What will be more telling is if we can win against Southampton next week the gap is back to seven with the onus on them to win albeit against the Arsenal but in the same way we rose from the dead so to speak to halt them last year the Arsenal may do the same.
In terms of our team my biggest worry on Sunday was the body language of the players. There was a moment when the cameras were on Luiz in the second half and he looked like he was a beaten man. In the context of the game the whole team had that air about them. Perhaps the almost puppet master work of our wonderful manager has had the effect of stopping the players thinking for themselves. Why didn’t Eden move around a bit more and drag his marker around. Why didn’t Pedro step up? To be fair the service to both was virtually non-existent and when we did get the ball we were fouled or just gave it away.
What we need is a really strong forward who can hold the ball up and occupy the opponents defence. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the person who used to do that job has left the building. The reluctance to use a different system or personnel is strange. Even accepting the fact the manager does not rate Batshuayi surely 3-1 up at Bournemouth with 20 minutes to go and Diego playing like he had pasties for feet ,he should have come on.
As for Antonio he seemed to know that Sunday was a nightmare but didn’t react. Before the game my one hope was that Jose would not get to him but I think that is exactly what happened. He was subdued as if he didn’t want Jose to get the better of him or give him an excuse to have a go. Not a lot went in his favour, losing Thibault and Alonso, illness in the squad generally and then his less than perfect team selection. He is not the first to be outdone by Jose and he will not be the last.
Whatever we do on Saturday against them, we must compete and I think we will. It will be a lot harder for them to press on such a big pitch. I hope we strengthen our midfield and by that I would like Willian playing and not Cesc. We got “bullied” at the Lane and I think we need numbers in midfield and I am hoping Willian gets the nod. He may not have the silky passes of Cesc but gaps will open and we should be able to create chances through other means.
We have everything within our grasp and the manager who has had his share of heartaches in the Italian league will know what to do. The hardest thing is to win that first trophy and they haven’t done that. Very few of their players have and their manager hasn’t. Our manager and most of our squad have that knowhow and experience and that should carry us forward.
There is also the JT factor. The timing of the announcement was bizarre to say the least. Was it a tactic to divert from the Old Trafford debacle? All that aside, you can rest assured that he will be rallying the troops and making sure no one forgets who are closest rivals in this are. He will remind them that they will not want to be the team who are remebered for letting them get anything. The squad will be left in no doubt that the order of things should be preserved.
It will certainly be odd to think of Chelsea without JT and even stranger to see him lining up against us. I will be surprised if that happens but if he does will he get the dogs abuse that Frank Lampard got? I bet he doesn’t even if he ventures north to the blue or red of Manchester? Why not, City need a defence and Man U have Jose?
At the end of the day, AC has been brilliant this season and after last season we would have taken the positon we are in now and so we need to keep our nerve and support these boys. We know we can do it.
Author of “Palpable Discord. A Year of drama and dissent at Chelsea” Published by Gate 17