The Bolton away game on December 6th could be another milestone in Chelsea’s ongoing quest to smash all records relating to top flight of English football. This quest started under Claudio Ranieri, went into the stratosphere under Jose’ and Big Phil is continuing the job.
A win at The Reebok will smash two records at one go – most away wins at the start of a season (eight) and most away league wins (eleven). We’re level with the 1960/61 Spurs double winning team on that one.
Bolton away. There are no two sweeter sounding words to any Chelsea fan born in the last sixty years. Bolton away – starting with Clive Walker’s goal and moving on to Frank’s goals, Jose’ on his mobile, the celebrations on The Reebok pitch and Roman drenched in the dressing room. Fifty years of pain washed away against the team who nearly sent us down to the Third Division only twenty two years earlier. On current form there is little doubt that we will add this record to the loads we’ve accumulated over the last five years.
But still there is a nagging doubt in my mind about our team this year, a doubt borne out of the fact that against the big teams we have still to turn on the style. More accurately, we have had disappointing results against the big ones – Roma, Man United and Liverpool.
I stand to be corrected on this but 32 goals scored in the first 13 league games with a goal difference of +28 is probably also some kind of Premiership record. But just as significantly, we managed only one goal in 2 home games against Liverpool and Man United and didn’t create that many chances in either of the games.
In the light of the Liverpool and Man United results, the Arsenal game on November 30th takes on extra significance. We have to beat the Gunners and beat them well to prove, most of all to ourselves, that we are not the park bullies, beating the little ‘uns and running scared of the big boys. If not, we then have to look at the three return fixtures with some trepidation.
Having said that, it is possible to win the Premiership without beating any of the other top four teams. It is going to take around 90 to 92 points to win the league and it is possible to get there or thereabout without beating Arsenal, Man United and Liverpool. Contradicting my own argument, it is usually the team that does best against their direct rivals that usually end up winning the Premiership.
A lot has been made about how adventurous our full backs have become under Scolari. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that they are the main difference in our style to the previous four years. That and Scolari’s refusal to accept the team easing off when one or two goals up. We all loved him for having a go at the team against Bordeaux when at 2 – 0 up the lads decided to take it easy.
My main worry is that in the big games the full backs didn’t quite know whether to play their normal game or be a bit more conservative. Especially against Liverpool, when in possession the full backs seemed hesitant and unsure and often ended up caught in no man’s land.
My main fear is what happens when the real Champions League gets under way in February. Big Phil has to devise a plan that works against the big teams that we will meet at that stage in the competition. This year is going to be the toughest Champions League of the lot to win. Many more teams than usual look capable of putting in a serious challenge than in previous years, Juventus above all. Don’t go and put your money on three English teams in the semi finals for the third successive year.
Having said all this I do believe that we will get better once the manager has his full complement of players to choose from. Carvalho, Essien, Ballack, Drogba and Joe Cole are all coming back from lay offs of varying length. Add these five players, who would walk into practically any team in the world, to the ones who have put us on top of the Premier League so far, and the prospect is nothing short of mouth watering. Not only do these players improve the team but they give Scolari the options he seems to be lacking at the moment. When things were not going well, the players on the bench offered more of the same rather than someone who could come on and allow the coach to change the style of play.
Big teams apart, the new style of play has certainly not only provided more entertainment but also peace of mind in the last quarter of the game. No more nail biting, hanging on by the skin of our teeth in the last fifteen minutes as we had got accustomed to over the past few years. I have attributed my copious hair loss to supporting Chelsea over the years. Pity this change in style of play has come too late to make any difference to my coiffure.