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Mark Noble column: This spell will define our season... we need two victories at least

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We’ve had a week without a game but now, starting tonight against Chelsea, we face five matches in 15 days which will define our season.

After Chelsea, we go to Newcastle on Sunday, then we’re back at the London Stadium against Burnley in a week’s time and that’s followed by Norwich away on July 11 and Watford at home four days after that.

As a minimum, we need a couple of wins from those games and I am confident we can get them. With such a schedule, though, the manager will certainly need to make changes to keep everyone relatively fresh.

What has been confirmed in the two games we’ve played so far without fans is that, if a chance comes your way, you have to take it.

We had a big chance against Wolves with Pablo Fornals and a couple more against Spurs, especially from Pablo again.

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We were punished by an own goal which resulted directly from a handball. VAR got it wrong and that seems to have been the way it’s gone for us this season, not that I’m blaming our position on that alone because we’ve made many mistakes this year.

Decisions have cost us valuable points but there’s no point dwelling on it. Against Spurs we defended really well but I do think, watching these early games in the Premier League, that the teams with better quality players do benefit from having no fans in the stadiums.

Even for the top teams, it is sometimes difficult for them to find a rhythm because of the influence of the crowd and I believe the best performers are finding it a lot easier without the adrenalin and enthusiasm that the fans can give to all players.

There have been several departures from the club over the past week or so and one player I would really like to highlight is Pablo Zabaleta.

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Sometimes you see a player who is towards the end of his career going to a club because it’s in London and he’s earning good money. They often don’t bring much to the party but that criticism could never be directed at Zaba.

He was at West Ham for three years, gave 100 per cent in every game, was good around the place and a truly great person and team-mate. His knowledge and experience was invaluable and the only regret for me is that I didn’t get to play with him when he was in his prime.

Read more Ngakia to leave West Ham after rejecting improved new offers

Carlos Sanchez and Jeremy Ngakia also departed. Jeremy’s exit was a strange one. He’s a young player who had played a handful of games for us and I don’t know his situation but it did seem money may have played a big part because he had been playing and I can’t see why he’d want to leave, unless he had a huge offer somewhere else.

Good luck to him. He’s a great kid and we’ll miss him because you want to keep your good, young players if possible.

One team who have benefited from picking their young players are our opponents tonight, Chelsea.

I spoke to Frank Lampard a month ago and the club’s hierarchy must be delighted, because he’s saved them millions by picking those youngsters.

You look at Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Billy Gilmour, Fikayo Tomori, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi. Some of those got their chance before Frank came in, but others have eagerly grabbed the opportunity afforded them this season due to the club’s transfer embargo.

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A lot of those young players, having proved their quality, are worth a fortune already and Frank has done a great job.

It proves that, if you’re young and good enough, you will get your chance and maybe other clubs will look at what is happening at Chelsea and think they should be doing something similar.

I would like to congratulate Liverpool for winning the Premier League — with seven games still left!

It is an incredible achievement to win it so comfortably and a real testament to their recruitment policy. Their players are superstars now, but not when they joined the club. It is Liverpool’s recruitment strategy, more than anything else, that has helped them enjoy the success they have achieved.

For more news relating to Chelsea, visit our sister site Chelsea Live.
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