What a game! I’m still buzzing! This whole contest was all about the context. Media was touting this as AVB vs CFC. The so-called neutrals so hoped that AVB defeats Chelsea as they had all the headlines ready. There’s this media conception that AVB was wronged by Chelsea and justice needs to be served. As soon as AVB took over at Spurs, the whole situation had a ‘David vs Goliath’ appeal to it. The media did want the sensational storyline of AVB avenging Roman and make him pay for his ‘blunder’ in some cinematic fashion and this game was meant to be chapter number one. There were more than three points in this game, no matter what RDM or AVB were saying in the press conference. And this was a game neither fans wanted to lose, Chelsea fans in particular.
Given the backdrop, I was curious to know which line-up RDM would go with. And it now appears that RDM now has settled down with his first choice playing eleven. It’s Cech, Terry, Ivanovic, Cole, Luiz, Mikel, Ramires, Mata, Hazard, Oscar and Torres. I think he will make changes to this basic line-up based on fitness and eligibility. And yes, there’s no Lampard in the starting line-up. It’s quite clear that Lampard has become a squad player now. He’s now not started against Newcastle, Juventus, Arsenal and Spurs. We all knew that the days of Lampard being a regular starter have gone. But many had doubts about how RDM would manage this message with Lampard. It’s fair to say now that RDM has totally nailed it.
When RDM won the champions league and FA cup, he did it with the senior players. The old guard won it for him. And that’s why and how RDM got the job. So it’s normal to think that RDM might want to repay that gratitude by continuing to use the senior players. The club had dealt with some of the potential conflicts by letting go few players. RDM still had to deal with the Lampard situation. It was such an irony that Lampard, who had problems with AVB about him being bench, was still on the Chelsea bench as AVB went up to shake hands with him. It may not be about being on the bench after all. It probably was the method or approach of handling the matter with a senior pro and a club legend like Frank Lampard.
I think RDM deserves a lot of credit for how he’s managed the football, the players and the media so far. He’s been the perfect diplomat and also has been as assertive as he can be with his communication. He had no dearth of off-field issues to deal with. And he’s handled himself very well in all these circumstances. I think he has really earned his respect with the club, fans and the players. And that makes it easy for him to deal with some sensitive decisions around players such as benching Lampard.
I had a small doubt or concern that RDM could go with Bertrand for his pace and also as a defensive minded player in the midfield to counter Spurs’ pace. But it could have happened only at the cost of either Mata, Hazard or Oscar. So RDM went with the strongest line-up with only Cahill coming in for Terry. This was our strongest line-up possible. On the other side, Bale and Dembele didn’t start for Spurs. Dembele was injured during international duty and Bale had to rush to the labour ward. I remember that when Mikel’s father was kidnapped, he still played for Chelsea and gave his all. I’m not saying one’s right and the other is not but Bale not starting did gave the initiative to Chelsea even before the kick off.
The first chance fell to Spurs but I knew all too well that once we start keeping possession we will start dominating the game. That’s what happened. By the end of the first half we were leading by a goal and were in complete control of the game. As expected Mikel had a very good half alongside Ramires. The question of which is the best pivot for Chelsea has now been very emphatically answered. Ramires took some time to settle into that pivot role but he looks more confident and assured and seems to have formed a good partnership with Mikel.
I was so hoping that we get our second goal as soon as in the second half. A one-goal lead in an away game is always going to be edgy. Spurs, like Arsenal, are a confidence team. If they get a goal, they will get more and more dangerous. And they got one when we failed to deal with a cross. And that was my concern all along the game. Every time a cross was delivered into the box, we looked very shaky. So much so that I feared that we’d concede every time a cross made it to our box. That’s where I missed Terry. His anticipation of a ‘danger’ is much better than that of any of our defenders.
As soon as Spurs equalised, you could see that their second goal was also coming. They suddenly had their crowd behind them. They got pacier than they were in the first half. They were coming at us. In just a few minutes after the equaliser we conceded another goal – a soft one I would say. There’s no way a striker can get in between two centre backs in that position and get a comfortable first touch finish like that. When Spurs took the lead, things were looking fairly ominous for Chelsea. The Spurs players all charged. The crowd was going mad and noisy. AVB had just done his goal celebration, which for me, looked a bit cautiously optimistic. The commentator really got on my nerves as he shouted ‘AVB 2, CFC 1’.
2-1 down against Spurs at White Hart Lane. This was the moment. The technical ability and the creative force of this Chelsea is never under question. These are some of the most exciting players in the premier league in recent times. When the likes of Drogba left Chelsea, most through that we have exchanged technical attributes for mental attributes. Yes this Chelsea can do those flicks, backheels, one-twos and triangles. Can they come back to win in a hostile away derby? That needs more than some deft touches, flicks and drags.
I was so confident that I knew we’d come back. Somehow, despite adding several young players and with very few from the ‘old core’, we still have managed to keep the ‘winning spirit’ and the ‘never say die’ attitude. RDM should take a lot of credit for that. Look I’m not saying because we won this game. I’d have said the same if we hadn’t finished to score those goals. Remember that ill-fated game at QPR where Chelsea lost 0-1 but outplayed QPR at their ground with just 9 men? That’s what I mean. It’s not the result. It’s how we go about it. As soon as Spurs took the lead, you could see Chelsea pushing forward. We took some risks and exposed ourselves but we so badly wanted the equaliser. And we went at them.
The equaliser arrived. A dangerous cross from Oscar from the right wing meant a hurried clearance from Gallas which landed at Mata’s feet. Mata, who missed a great chance to score in the first half, took it this time perfectly well. Brad Freidel didn’t even move. At 2-2 with 30 minutes to go, there’s no way we were going home with anything less than 3 points. Meanwhile, Spurs had their chances too. Few pops at Cech and some where he had to make realy good saves.
And then, the beauty! Chelsea’s third goal. Oscar (in the left midfield) to Mata. Mata to Mikel. Mata makes the run. Mikel to Hazard. Mata continues the run. Hazard’s first touch through pass behind Gallas to Mata. And what a finish! This goal, in many ways, sums up this new Chelsea. Look how Mata finds the space and cheekily runs into the space. Amazing goal. Moments later Mata set Torres up exactly the way Hazard had set him up. Torres went inches wide but it showed how easily we could pick apart Spurs defence at will.
What can I say about MAZACAR combination? Pure joy. Pure magic. Such pleasure to watch these three wizards rotate possession and positions among themselves and deliver the knockout blow in a blitzkreig. When such top quality players play selflessly they can be so dangerous. For the opponents, it’s so hard to read their next move. Even while watching on the telly, I couldn’t tell who will move where next. It’s like all three of them have free roles. They constantly interchange not only positions but also the role in every single attack. In one move, Oscar sets up, Hazard assists and Mata scores. And these roles keep changing in every single attack.
We might now take this for granted but remember this could have all easily gone wrong. And people would be saying that these are similar players congesting the attacking midfield and they have conflicting roles. These three players could have been selfish, could have gone for personal glory. These three players could have been very indisciplined. Two of them are new to the league, climate, language and culture. We should not take their settling down as a great trio for granted. RDM again, should take a lot of credit to integrating all these three players and getting the best out of them individually and as a group.
And then the final wrapping up happened thanks to some tremendous work by Mata and tap-in by Sturridge. Good to see Sturridge back. And when he plays, he does create an impact, somehow. This time, he was clearly following the Mata-Walker tussle and knew exactly what to expect from Mata and made sure he was there to apply the finish. For the second time in the league, we had come back from 1-2 down to win 4-2.
Some thoughts on Andre Villas Boas. Very pleased to see him walk up to the Chelsea bench sporting a big smile for hugs and handshakes. He was also very dignified in his post match comments on the game. All in all he acted as a thorough gentleman that we know he is. Banter aside, I always liked him and I still like him. He knew very well what he was getting into at Chelsea and it’s fair to say he didn’t deliver and ran the risk of dropping Chelsea to the levels unseen under Roman. I’m sure Chelsea was a great experience for him to develop in his career and I think he would do a good job at Spurs. I have full respect for him as an ex-Chelsea bloke but he will be subject to my twitter banter as always.
In a way, I thought AVB was lucky to get to play Chelsea at White Hart Lane this early in the season because I don’t think Chelsea have hit peak form yet. I think we have some distance to go before we do that. Meanwhile Chelsea are surely becoming stronger by the week with the confidence gained after each result. There’s a popular belief that there are some concerns around defence. For all those worries, we have conceded only 6 goals in 8 games, the lowest conceded in the league. If we have a problem in defensive organisation, the whole league is a lot worse than us. The Atletico game is probably still not forgotten. That was one of the worst defensive displays from Chelsea. But in the premier league, we have had some decent performances from a defensive point of view.
Chelsea have started this season brightly. Unbeaten and still top of the league. Pundits were saying Chelsea were helped by an easy set of fixtures. We have now gone to North London twice and have beaten both the North London team in their own backyard. I’m sure now the tune will be ‘the Manchester clubs are the real test for Chelsea’. The good thing is, we don’t need to wait for too long. Next weekend, at Stamford Bridge, we will see how this new Chelsea measures up against Man Utd.
We are setting really high standards here. We’ve got new players but they have settled in nicely. We have let go our talisman Didier Drogba and few others. The premier player of the decade is not even a regular starter. Some new players such as Marin, Moses and Azpi haven’t even had a look-in yet. We have numerous off-field issues for the club from court cases to FA charges to PR disasaters but we haven’t let any of these things affect our football. These can be taken for granted. In most clubs, these are good enough reasons for a bad start to the league. But here at Chelsea, despite all these things we are still on top of the table. We are back to setting the high standards and raising the bar for the premier league. If we beat Man Utd next weekend, we will be the first favourites of this season’s premier league title. Until then, bask in the derby glory and use up all the bragging rights!