Today’s result was a crucial one. Not because it promised a complete turnaround in form or to initiate a long winning streak, but because anything but 3 points I think would’ve forced us into damage limitation mode, permanently until the end of the season. Now, with this win-less run finally over, and with Mikel and Moses returning shortly (hopefully as ACON champions) we have at least the chance to get back on some sort of a role, progress in both the FA Cup and Europa League and start playing with some confidence once again.
Another reason today was important was that it showed we are actually capable of producing some attacking quality and fluency without Juan Mata on the field. The games in which the Spaniard hasn’t started this season have been invariably among out worst – an overdependence on him is something we need to be careful to avoid, or at least not to augment. Other positives from this afternoon which you felt were necessary if February is to be a good month – Eden Hazard returned from suspension and had a pretty much flawless game, tormenting Wigan as he did on his PL debut. Marko Marin also scored his first goal for Chelsea after being subbed on for the Belgian in stoppage time. It was heartening to see how much it meant to him.
Petr Cech started in goal despite breaking his little finger in the week, but John Terry was unavailable, still struggling from that knee injury he suffered against Liverpool in November. David Luiz returned after captaining Brazil at Wembley on Wednesday to partner Lampard in midfield. Juan Mata had a virus so Ramires moved out to the right wing and Fernando Torres started up front, over the nasally compromised Demba Ba. Wigan were unchanged from their draw with Southampton.
Neither team really took control in the opening 20 minutes; the game was completely stuck in midfield until the Chelsea opener. David Luiz rushed forward to find Torres who played a great first touch pass into Ramires who curled it nicely over Al-Habsi – the goal was a bizarrely straightforward counter attack after such a close start to the game. The second goal wasn’t much more difficult. Gary Cahill took a quick free kick to find Azpilicueta on the right flank who easily cut inside and squared it to Hazard who scored with a hard low shot into the middle of the net. Some suggested it might take the Belgian a long time to lose the tag of ‘guy who kicked ball boy’ but it feels already half forgotten to me.
Wigan grabbed one straight back after Cahill tried and failed to play Maloney offside, the Scot dribbling around and chipping over Petr Cech with some quality. But Chelsea were solid from then on, keeping possession and building plays up slowly and confidently. The game was ended by a Frank Lampard goal after a late run into the box (surely the most typed sentence in the history of Chelsea blogging) as he “steered” in his 198th Chelsea goal. It seems only a bad injury to Frank could protect Tambling’s record now. The Englishman has scored in his last 4 league games now, 7 in 8 and 9 in 14! Whether you want him to stay or if you’re with me in this ever-decreasing minority who don’t, you can’t deny Lamps is hot at the moment and was great to watch today. Marko Marin scored the fourth with a diving header into an empty net after Al-Habsi had blocked a hard swerving shot from Cesar Azpilicueta, who had another solid and impressive performance this afternoon.
Top 3 Performances
3) David Luiz – I think we’ve really missed the Brazilian this past couple of weeks. I don’t like the midfield partnership of Lampard and Ramires that Benitez has been forced to select. Luiz just makes us look more balanced and adds some needed physicality. I thought he worked hard today, won a lot of balls and played with a standard level of discipline and quality which I may never understand why so many refuse to associate him with.
2) Frank Lampard – He was the man who clearly benefitted most from Luiz’ return as he found more chances to shoot and play balls into the box with the Brazilian covering. For the most part his passing was inch perfect as well. When Chelsea have control of a game like they did today, Lampard becomes a colossus – his goal was completely inevitable.
MOTM) Oscar – The 21 year old was subbed off to a standing ovation after 75 minutes after giving his best performance for quite a long time. Everything good it seemed we were doing was being knitted together by the Brazilian with his trademark little flicks and lay-offs and back heels. His place may be under threat again when Moses returns next week from South Africa. After today’s performance however I think he warrants a start against Sparta on Thursday at least.
The scores and performances in the next three games don’t really matter so long as we progress in both competitions and can carry a little bit of momentum into our match at the Etihad in a couple of weeks time, to face a Man City team who look as beatable as they have done for a long time. Currently we’re nowhere near a position where trophies and a top 2 finish are reasonable objectives; to stay in a position where they are at least feasible is our job for now. Today did that quite nicely.