After Chelsea conceded more goals at the weekend than the team did in the first 14 games under Thomas Tuchel, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin puts that single result into perspective while looking ahead to a ‘tough’ European encounter this week…
I am not sure if I can truly be surprised by football anymore. Too many weird and wonderful, and some less than wonderful, things have happened this year.
At the weekend we shipped five goals in one game, at home, against a side who haven’t looked capable of scoring five goals in five weeks of football. A team coached by Sam Allardyce, noted above anything else for his organisational skills and Mourinho-like ability to conjure up single-goal wins.
The fact that, up until then, our defence looked tighter than my first Chelsea top looks on me now underlined it was an ugly aberration that we should not have to look at again too often. I mean we should not have to look at the performance again but yes, I agree, me sporting my silky, slinky 1983/84 Blues kit nowadays is also very uncomfortable viewing!
We have all been there before with those big weird out-of-the-blue defeats, and you do not even have to look far into the annals of ancient history to find these odd games. This season itself has shocked everyone at various points. How do you reckon Liverpool fans felt after their 7-2 hammering at Aston Villa back in early October? Considering they were the champions, any sensible football fan would have thought if there was going to be a 7-2 that day then Mo Salah would have got four of the goals, with Mane getting a brace at least. But they were on the receiving end.
Liverpool fans aren’t the only ones to suffer a deficit of five in the goals-against column in one match. On the very same day Manchester United lost 6-1 at home to Spurs. Even Man City got hammered 5-2 by Leicester this season, maybe not as big a shock, but stunning all the same at the Etihad.
I think our big home defeat was more like the United fiasco, because the real damage came after a sending off.
Going a man down
For all the negative headlines, and it was not a good performance, after a shaky start against West Brom we had begun to dominate the game for about 20 minutes. We then got the first goal and if we hadn’t gone down to 10 men, there is little doubt in my mind we would still have gone on to win the game comfortably. It is a pretty big ‘if’ however and we certainly didn’t deal well with the disadvantage when it came. I have to say though, it was a soft second yellow considering the limited contact and the fact that it was an honest if desperate tackle by Thiago Silva.
We might have had more possession, shots on goal and corner kicks, but those stats do not hide the defensive frailties, so is it time to panic? Well Man City didn’t, Manchester United didn’t and Liverpool didn’t either.
Teams and coaches know that one result, or one poor defensive performance should not define a team or its season. It is senseless to dwell too long on that 90 minutes when the previous 14 games were defensively as good as anyone on the planet.
On the other hand, it is also vital not to just ignore it and I am sure Thomas Tuchel will not do that. There were a lot of bad days at the office, in fact the entire office looked to be having a day off, but as long as it is only one day then with Spurs drawing and failing to take advantage, the top four dream is still alive and well.
I reckon Tuchel learned more in the game against West Brom than he did in any other single Chelsea match he has been in charge of so far. It had all been a bit like clockwork up until now, but this was different, and it may well have shone a light on previously unnoticed weaknesses, ones that will only show up in the dark moments.
‘I expect the boss feels comfortable in the Champions League, knowing that he will have to be ready for anything’
He will be happy that this ‘out of the blue’ performance didn’t happen in Seville against Porto tomorrow night. That could have killed the Champions league dream in no time.
The importance of how the players react to these types of results is critical. After Manchester United’s humbling, they won three of the next four including an away victory at PSG, while the other game was a draw against Chelsea. Liverpool went on a run of six wins and two draws in the next eight games after they shipped those seven goals at Villa Park. Man City have done quite well too since their slip up!
Preparing for Porto
Porto in the Champions League were always going to be a real test of character for us. Unfortunately they have now been buoyed by the Baggies bagging a bundle at the Bridge. From the north-west of Portugal, our defence must have looked impregnable before the weekend, but they will not feel that way now.
To underline their credentials, they will remind us that although we crumbled when losing a man against West Brom, when they lost a player recently against Juventus they didn’t. With an hour of football still to play, they didn’t capitulate and eventually scored in the 115th minute to send themselves through on the away-goals rule.
This is going to be a tough one even if they are not one of Europe’s historical biggest hitters such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Barcelona.
Fortunately, I cannot imagine a similar type of game as the weekend one from any of our lads this time, but then we would be very unlucky to go down to 10 men early on. If we do in this one, or indeed any other game between now and the end of the season, Thomas Tuchel will have a better understanding how we play, how the system copes and what he has to change to stay solid.
Sometimes it isn’t the changes but the pace of the changes you have to make that is the vital ingredient. I expect the boss feels comfortable in the Champions League, knowing that he will have to be ready for anything, and ready to adapt to anything, at a moment’s notice.
More than anything else we need increased energy levels from the start of the game against Porto. If he is fit, I cannot imagine Mason Mount starting on the bench this time and that should certainly help.
There is also the age-old line about sometimes looking a better player when you are sitting on the bench during a bad defeat. Again if fit, it is hard to imagine Toni Rudiger not coming into the back line somewhere for tomorrow as his intense defending style was sorely missed.
There could be plenty of changes to the starting 11, but the biggest change will be in the level of performance. With the world’s most desired club trophy to play for, there can be no doubt we will be up for it this time. Hopefully with our mean defence back at work after a rare day off.