Chelsea FC fans tempted to see their glass as being half-empty after the UEFA Champions League semi-final defeat by Club Atlético de Madrid should heed the words of Stamford Bridge old boy Pat Nevin.
Nevin, a skilful winger in the Chelsea team that won the old English Second Division title 30 years ago, remains a regular contributor to the club's in-house media as well as working as a BBC pundit, and he takes a more positive view of their first campaign under José Mourinho 2.0.
"Although they won the Europa League last season, the semi-finals of the Champions League is a progression from that and also for the first time in a few years they are really in the mix for the Premier League," the former Scotland player told UEFA.com.
For Nevin, this has been a "transitional" season, yet the Blues remain in the domestic title race entering the penultimate weekend – having finished the past two campaigns 14 and 25 points off the pace – and "were the most successful English team in Europe", which is not bad considering they opened the group stage last September with a home loss to FC Basel 1893.
It is all the better when you consider this Chelsea side can only improve. Though they may have failed to break down Atlético at home on Wednesday, Nevin is hopeful the deficiencies exposed that evening can be addressed this summer.
The key missing ingredients, he suggests, are a striker – "that is the most obvious one" – and "another out-and-out full-back". He believes an attacking left-back would provide the necessary support for Eden Hazard, crowned on 27 April as the Professional Football Association's Young Player of the Year but a frustrated figure in Wednesday's semi-final reverse. "Teams have figured a way of stopping Eden Hazard recently," Nevin explains.
"I went through that in my career; you will get two or three players on you and you have to adapt your game. Sometimes the best way to do that is to be quite clever and see you're dragging players out of the game and have a full-back who will fly past you and then get into that area behind their defence. Ashley Cole is not as capable as he once was to do that. [César] Azpilicueta will get there, but being right-footed his delivery isn’t that great with his left foot."
Yet Nevin is confident Hazard, still only 23, will develop and hints he will not be the only one given the group of footballers at Chelsea aged 25 or under who are "growing into very good players", including Oscar, Willian and Nemanja Matić. Centre-back Gary Cahill, 28, is another one "getting better and better” and then there is Thibaut Courtois, in goal for Atlético against his parent club the other night but a potential keystone for Chelsea for years to come. "They've got the best young goalkeeper in the world and he's not even at the club yet. The base at Chelsea is fantastic, they don't have any worries for the future."
Nevin also foresees a more attacking approach next term. If Chelsea's best performances this season have been "the games they've got most stick for" – i.e. the defensive masterclasses that brought Premier League victories at Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC – he reckons that was born out of necessity, as shown when they tried to open up in the second half against Atlético. "[Mourinho] knew himself the team wasn't good enough to play in an open style; they played [that way] when they had to against Atlético and they got picked off."
But, Nevin promises, with the right reinforcements, it will be a different story in 2014/15. "People think they are ultra-defensive, but you will find next year that is not the case," he concludes. "It will be very high tempo, it will be closing down high up the pitch. They have a group of players to adapt to that." In other words, Chelsea fans, your glass is very much half-full.
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