I fear for Chelsea players who are running on empty: Gary Neville

I fear for Chelsea players who are running on empty

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UPDATED:

00:40 GMT, 25 March 2012

Yesterday was a big moment for
Tottenham. For most of the season they have thrilled us with their
football and kept pace with the title race. And then, in the last few
weeks, it looked as though their season might come off the rails, after
the three defeats and a draw.

What had looked like being a hard-earned Champions League spot seemed as though it might pass them by.

Sometimes in a season you just need to
stop the momentum, and that’s what they did. It may even be the point
in the season that they look back on and say: ‘That was where we
cemented our Champions League place.’

Clearly there’s still a long way to go
and Chelsea aren’t out of it yet. Staying five points clear of their
London rivals, with eight games to play, is obviously a big advantage
but the most significant thing about the afternoon was the character
they showed.

Chelsea pensioner: Didier Drogba, making a point to the referee yesterday, can no longer be expected to perform at the top level twice a week

Chelsea pensioner: Didier Drogba,
making a point to the referee yesterday, can no longer be expected to perform at the top level twice a week

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On the back of some poor results, they
started slowly and rather sheepishly. But as the game went on, they
showed they began to get on top and by the end they were creating good
chances and will feel they should have won the game.

A performance like that and a point as
important as yesterday’s can be enough to change the mood of a team and
the momentum of a season. Harry Redknapp, despite not winning, can be
proud of his players and will have gone home a lot happier than Roberto
Di Matteo.

Just at a point in the season when it
looked like Chelsea’s season had turned, when it looked as though the
impetus of a new manager had revived them, it is quite clear to me that
what is costing them is energy in their legs. That’s shown this season
already, as they have been conceding late goals. They have dropped nine
points in the last 10 minutes of games, which is more than any other
team in the Premier League.

And they looked a tired team yesterday
and finished the game badly, just as they finished Wednesday’s game
against Manchester City badly. And now they have to go to Benfica on
Tuesday before travelling to Aston Villa next Saturday.

Fading: Chelsea were vulnerable in the latter stages of Wednesday's game against Manchester City

Fading: Chelsea were vulnerable in the latter stages of Wednesday's game against Manchester City

That’s a lot of travel — from Manchester to London to Lisbon to Birmingham — and a lot of tough games to play in 10 days.

It didn’t help that yesterday’s match
was played just past midday in 20 degrees of heat, which will have
drained the players even more.

They are lacking pace up front and, in
the last 20 minutes when they needed that push to get the win they
really needed to take them closer to the Champions League, they just
didn’t look to be the team to finish strongly. They only really had the
long ball to Didier Drogba to create problems and we didn’t see much of
Juan Mata, Ramires and Daniel Sturridge.

There is an imbalance in the team at the moment and there will definitely have to be a fresh injection of new bodies at the end of the season, especially in wide areas where they need pace and creativity.

I didn’t think that Di Matteo’s substitutions were positive enough in a game that his side had to win. Salomon Kalou came on with two minutes left for Daniel Sturridge. I would have liked to have seen both of them playing and for longer, to give Chelsea that extra pace and energy.

Old guard: Petr Cech can only watch as Gareth Bale's header thumps the bar

Old guard: Petr Cech can only watch as Gareth Bale's header thumps the bar

The problem for Di Matteo and Chelsea is that the core of the team remains the same as it ever was: Petr Cech, John Terry, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Drogba. But it’s clear those players, Cech aside, don’t have the energy to perform every three days, as you have to at this stage of the season. That’s not a criticism, that’s just fact of life when you are 30. You can’t play at that level twice a week and you need your core players to be in their twenties.

Di Matteo has a real challenge now as to how he manages team selection over the next few weeks. Though the Champions League is the trophy the owner wants, they will probably face Barcelona in the semi-final — and that’s if they manage to get past Benfica, a good side who are quite capable of causing them a shock. They will need plenty of energy in that game and I fear for them if they can’t improve on this.

And though they have the FA Cup to look forward to, I can’t imagine Roman Abramovich will be celebrating if they have won at Wembley but finished fifth in the Premier League. Because it is the Champions League that guarantees the future of the club and its long-term status.

It’s not just titles that define the best manager

The manager of the year is usually awarded to the man who has coached the title-winning side. But this year it could just as well go to Brendan Rodgers, Paul Lambert or Alan Pardew, whose Newcastle side take on West Bromwich today.

Lambert has done an extraordinarily good job at Norwich, who were in League One just two years ago. And no team have come up into the Premier League and captured the imagination of the public like Swansea since Kevin Keegan’s attacking Newcastle team in 1993-94.

Which takes us to Pardew, whose campaign has been just as impressive. At the beginning of the season, they appeared to be a club in crisis: Joey Barton was leaving, Jose Enrique had been sold and Kevin Nolan had left. Those were meant to be their best players and they had only recently lost Andy Carroll.

Round of applause: Alan Pardew has doen a magnificent job at Newcastle

Round of applause: Alan Pardew has doen a magnificent job at Newcastle

But since then Pardew’s achievements have been enormous. Maybe when he was appointed he was viewed as a Cockney outsider. Slowly he has won fans round.

Some excellent signings in Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba have helped, along with Chieck Tiote, who joined the club just before Pardew. The club’s next problem will be keeping those players.

On a day on when Newcastle take on West Brom, it’s good to see Pardew and Roy Hodgson, two English managers, doing so well.

Pardew may have ruled himself out of the England job on the grounds that he is not the right age for it — a good decision in my view — but Hodgson is a great tactical manager who has vast experience. In some ways, he would be better suited to England than club management, as his analytical style would suit international football.

Mixing it with the best: The FA could do a lot worse than opting for Roy Hodgson (right)

Mixing it with the best: The FA could do a lot worse than opting for Roy Hodgson (right)

Those who say he failed to deal with the pressure of managing Liverpool are missing the fact that he came into an enormously difficult situation, with the club ownership in crisis, didn’t have 110million to spend and then saw the owners and executives change halfway through the season. Before the start of the 2010-11 season, Harry Redknapp and Hodgson would have been considered equal favourites for the England job.

If Redknapp does not turn out to be the new England manager, either because he chooses to stay at Tottenham or because negotiations break down, the FA could do worse than look at Hodgson.