Chelsea’s approach to Sunday’s match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium has attracted criticism.
They were languid and unambitious right from the start of the match. That annoyed some observers but you can see the logic; don’t waste energy, don’t lose shape and don’t do anything stupid.
However, that approach didn’t change as the match wore on and even after Bernardo Silva poked City ahead just past half time, Chelsea were content to play at a low tempo and not force the issue.
Antonio Conte started the match without a recognised striker on the pitch and the introductions of Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud came too late on to make an impact.
However, former Chelsea man Pat Nevin has moved to put himself in the minority and defend the Italian’s approach, fearing that the Blues would have been thrashed otherwise.
“Up until losing the goal moments after half-time on Sunday, it was backs to the wall but with very few chances coughed up and maybe the looks of a plan that just might work.
“The problem is of course that had Antonio opened the game up, by either taking off a centre-back or moving to a 3-5-2, then maybe an unlikely scraped point would have been won and hailed as a great result.
“But he knows fine well that any team who plays open football against City at the Etihad generally gets picked off and the word naïve is then bandied about regarding the opposition coach.
“Conte is anything but naïve and he clearly wasn’t willing to step into that particular trap.”
Nevin also launched an unlikely defence of Antonio Rudiger, who many felt had a poor match against City’s rampant attack. He said:
“It was Rudiger who stood out for me. I do accept there will be the odd raised eyebrow but to be fair there wasn’t always a lot on in front of him.
“All the defenders and midfielders where caught on the ball and on the hop by City at one point or another. It is particularly difficult when there isn’t an easy out-ball.
“Toni gave away a few fouls and was booked in the end, but that was part of the reason why I was impressed.
“He was utterly committed to his work. His marking and his tackling were generally exceptional, rarely did anyone get past him.
“On a few occasions his pace was tested against Leroy Sane and Kyle Walker, but he wasn’t found wanting and those are two of the very quickest in the business.”
Nevin is trying to be positive about his former club as they head into a critical stage of the season having slipped behind their rivals in the race for the top four but he seems wide of the mark here.
The lack of intensity in the Chelsea side was the problem; they just didn’t put enough pressure on the ball or make the best of it when they got it back.