Football managers/coaches all over the world at the moment can only regard Roberto Di Matteo with some degree of envy, regarding the sort of players he gets to work with. All of our new signings have made as impressive a start as we could’ve hoped for; as individuals they’ve all been as brilliant as we knew they could be. The way in which they’ve immediately built a rapport with their teammates and so passionately displayed a desire to succeed as part of team with Chelsea, has surpassed all expectations, surely.
After our win at Arsenal last weekend, Glen Hoddle (on Sky Sports) made an interesting comparison between this new-look Chelsea side, and the Real Madrid team of 2000-04 (The Galacticos) – he pointed out one key difference. Our forward line obviously isn’t as talented as theirs was (with Zidane, Figo, Raul & Ronaldo etc) but we still have some world-class attackers and they were similarly all brought to the club within a short space of time. They were also brought to Chelsea with some massive reputations and with a lot being expected.
Hoddle essentially just paraphrased a famous criticism which Arrigo Sacchi had of that Madrid team; basically the so-called Galacticos ‘project’ was nothing more than the attempted “exploitation of specialist players”. None of them really ever worked for each other or ever tracked back to defend and so tactical compromises had to be made. Sacchi always wanted his football teams to be “harmonious” and about the collective, but with that Madrid side it was about using “x amounts of talent” and “y amounts of specialists” with was “tactically lazy”.
In signing Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard, we haven’t, as some journalists predicted, bought big egos to the club. Personally I find the attitude of these players amazing. If I was as talented and as rich and as good looking as Eden Hazard, and I had three of the richest clubs in world football openly competing to sign me , I don’t know how I’d manage to stay as humble and as genuine as he comes across. Likewise with Oscar who at the age of just 20 was given the #10 shirt for Brazil, the shirt once worn by Zizinho, Pele, and Zico, and yet he seems as modest as any player in Europe.
Some people expected before the start of the season that, at some point, Di Matteo would have to deal with our new players bitching and complaining about not getting to play the free central role they all seem to prefer. The exact opposite has happened. All three of Mata, Oscar and Hazard have shown what selfless and resourceful team players they can be in a variety of positions. They don’t just work well together but they multiply each other’s qualities in a way The Galacticos never did. They drop deep and wide quite happily, they do their bit defensively and they all seem to run non-stop. They make each other better players and together most likely will all reach their full potential without ever hogging the spot-light.
The role that Oscar played against Arsenal where he deliberately restricted his own creative impact in order to help prevent Arteta and Cazorla getting space on the ball, just showed how useful he can be for Chelsea in two completely different positions.
(Personally though, I’m against starting Oscar in that deeper position to begin with. I think he can already contribute to our build up play so much as a #10 to start him deeper and prevent him from being creative in the final third at all, would just be a waste. Especially when Ramires can probably do a better job for 90mins in that role)
At this point I think Fernando Torres also deserves some credit for his attitude at the start of the season. I think his performance against Arsenal was his best ever for Chelsea. He looked sharp and he bullied their defenders winning the majority of 50/50 balls and headers. He played like a #9 who’s easily good enough to win Chelsea the league, as he won both crucial fouls and opened the scoring.
More important than the goals though is his obvious approach to his new role as our full-time first choice striker. Rather than just hang off the last defender for 90mins (as many strikers would with a trio of playmakers like we have behind him), he’s following the example of our new signings and is continuing to work hard for the team, getting involved in the build up play and trying to provide assists.
One final heap of praise is in order I think for the decision Di Matteo took to give Juan Mata a two week holiday during the international break. Since returning he has been exceptional, pretty much battering Wolves on his own, coming up with the key late assist against Stoke and scoring two excellent goals away to Nordsjaellend this Tuesday.
At his best, Mata is just incredible to watch. He is creative/makes things happen from so many different positions and areas on the pitch. His first touch, passing and dribbling are all as good as each other. He is just a phenomenal, modern, all-round playmaker – good enough for any side in the world, apart from his own country, which is shit luck.
I think Mata’s style of play perfectly represents what Chelsea are aiming for as a collective. I know I’ve said it before but I want to reiterate my belief, in a few years time we’ll look back on the contributions of Mata over his first couple of seasons, as the single biggest influence on the transformation of Chelsea into a beautiful team to watch.
It’s the start of October, we’re top of the league, top of our Champions League Group and Oscar and Hazard have settled in perfectly. I think we’d have all taken that seven weeks ago.