Stoke 0-4 Chelsea – Poor Old Jonathon Walters
It’s a pretty difficult game these days trying to predict the score when Chelsea are playing. Our form book looks pretty crazy at the minute; the last 5 games have gone WLWLW. Two clear trends emerge however out of the apparent disorder. 1) We play significantly better away than we do at home and 2) We play better when Demba Ba starts up front. In our last three away games we’ve ended two very long unbeaten home runs for Stoke and Everton and have dismantled Southampton 5-1 in the cup, whilst we’ve failed to score in 4 of Rafa’s 6 games at Stamford Bridge. (Although, we scored 14 in the other two!!)
Notice also we score 9 in 2 when Ba starts and 0 in 2 with Torres. Whether it’s the Spaniard’s mere presence on the pitch that’s handicaps us so greatly, or if it’s the pressure Rafa feels to win at home, hopefully we’ll learn which is the bigger problem by starting the Senegalese against Southampton and Arsenal next week.
4 changes were made to Wednesday’s team: Petr Cech returned, Lampard came back into the team for Cahill (who showed questionable dedication choosing to witness the birth of his son instead of travelling to Stoke); Ryan Bertrand was also rotated in ahead of Oscar. He never really got in the game but his presence allowed more space for Mata and Hazard in particular to do more in the final third. Demba Ba made his first league start for Chelsea.
Poor old Jonathon Walters had a bit of a shit day. The Irishman missed a late penalty and scored two own goals – one right at the end of the first half and another at the beginning of the 2nd, after Asmir Begovic had made some good saves early on. Lampard smashed in a penalty on the 65th minute to move clear of Kerry Dixon on 192 Chelsea goals, and then Eden Hazard wrapped it up with a swerving 25 yard stunner with his left foot into the top corner. Juan Mata assisted all 3 second half goals taking his season tally to 19.
It’s impossible to watch a Chelsea game now on Sky or ESPN or Fox or anywhere else it seems without a punditry team bringing up Frank Lampard’s contract situation and expressing their plain befuddlement. I remain largely un-befuddled on the issue but had to admit that Lampard was imperious today. His passing was incredible as he relentlessly found gaps in a defence renowned for their ability not to leave gaps. Today was pretty substantial evidence that Lamps could yet have a good few years as deeper lying midfielder for Chelsea but I still can’t picture him as a squad player that (as a 35 year old) he would have to be; I still think it’s time that McEachran, Oscar, Romeu and De Bruyne were given some decent chances in the first team also.
Lampard was MOTM undoubtedly but Hazard deserves a mention for his performance as well. I think I must want the Mata/Oscar/Hazard trio to thrive as much as anyone and it’s painful to admit that it just hasn’t worked so far. Mata plays brilliantly regardless of whom else is on the pitch but when Ramires or Bertrand starts on the wing, the difference that it makes to Hazard’s game is immense, with just that bit of extra room he becomes a different player. At 22 he’s already one of the best dribblers on the planet, and that’s an asset Chelsea need to learn quickly how to maximise. And if it can’t be done without moving Oscar to a deeper position then I really feel for the manager who has to make that decision. I think either way he’ll find himself compromising a potentially legendary career.
It was also great to see John Terry back on the pitch. He’s admittedly been missed less since Benitez took charge and noticeably tightened us up at the back. John’s still our best centre half without question in my opinion and an invaluable leader, it’s hard not to just feel more comfortable when he’s on the pitch. The issue of who should be his regular partner should be, will once again arise. Ivanovic and Cahill have formed a solid partnership recently and with Azpilicueta doing well at right back and David Luiz covering for Romeu and Mikel in midfield; it seems it’ll be a straight contest between the two of them for that regular place in the XI. I imagine it’ll be Ivanovic.
We finally catch up with our game in hand on Wednesday, when we play Southampton at home. Anyone who watched us beat them 5-1 in the FA Cup would surely assume we won’t have much problem picking up 3 points, but the days when Stamford Bridge was arguably the greatest fortress in world club football are long gone. The stands now find themselves filled with frustrated fans, divided on many issues yet seemingly united by a vitriolic contempt for the manager. It’ time to stop messing around now and put a decent string of victories together – Southampton first then Arsenal, who are certainly owed a beating after what they did at the Bridge last season.