Two and half weeks ago after the home defeat to Basel in the Champions League, there was an inevasible air of anxiety regarding Chelsea’s start to the season, as we found ourselves having gone four games without a victory and initially on the back foot, both domestically and in Europe. And so lot of credit is due for the reaction of the team and manager since that loss to the Swiss side. The five ensuing games yielded four wins and a draw (away to Tottenham) with only two goals conceded. The Champions’ League group still doesn’t make for especially comfortable viewing but the overall situation headed into this international break looks a lot better that it could’ve done before the Fulham game last month.
Sunday’s win at Norwich was our first away win of the PL season, which on a day where Arsenal lost points and Tottenham lost hilariously at home to West Ham, puts us third in the table, level on points with Southampton and only two behind joint leaders Arsenal and Liverpool. The game itself was probably the most entertaining of our season so far, with the Chris Hughton’s side pushing Chelsea all the way and not settling for a draw. I think Chelsea did enough to deserve the win but the two-goal margin of victory was sonorously flattering – with a bit more luck the Canaries could’ve definitely won three points.
We were comfortably the better side in the first half and our early goal was well taken. Demba Ba held up the ball well although was fortunate to avoid penalisation after it (albeit unavoidably) hit his hand. The big forward laid it off softly to Oscar who slotted the ball into the bottom corner with the outside of his boot. For the following 50 minutes or so Chelsea managed to control the game pretty easily. With the constant high pressing of Schurrle and Ramires, coupled with the fluid link up play of Oscar and Juan Mata, the home side found it difficult to keep possession in the middle of the pitch.
Eventually however they managed to assert themselves on the game and capped a decent period of pressure with a well worked equaliser. Ash Cole got dragged inside and so was unable to defend an early ball in to Ricky Van Wolfswinkel who knocked it back in for Anthony Pilkington to score from just a few yards out. The following 20 minutes made for some great live sport as both teams became more open in search of the winner before an extremely sloppy 20 seconds of play from the home side effectively decided the game. A horrendously wide corner kick was headed away by Eden Hazard who then ran all the way up the pitch to be found beautifully by Oscar to finish a classy counter attacking move. Both Alexander Tettey and goalkeeper John Ruddy were culpable for the goal, the replay showed the finish was actually quite a poor one from the Belgian, but his anticipation of the poor touch which set up the opportunity was denotative of the quality of his attacking instincts. The match was then sealed 60 seconds later when Willian scored his first Chelsea goal with a gorgeous left footed curler into the top corner – our goal of the season so far, I think.
Demba Ba – The big Senegalese forward was a clever selection by Mourinho. As a rule, I’m not at all a fan of playing long balls up to the forward. As a tactic, I find it bizarrely unsophisticated for a team like ours. Yet seeing the way the Norwich centre halves, Ben Turner in particular struggled/seemed unwilling to take on Ba in aerial duels just about vindicated the idea . Other than for the opening goal, the strategy was largely unsuccessful, but the way in which Ba ‘put himself about’, preoccupying the centre halves played a huge part in our dominance of the early stages. As my writing partner @BlueChampion tweeted during the game, Ba performance was typical of “this theme about our strikers now: Very hardworking, committed team players (but who) don’t take their chances”
Oscar – Once again the man of the match and once again proving himself worthy of the trust the manager has publicly placed in his talent and potential. The young Brazilian’s goal was a finish of true quality, whilst his first touch and long diagonal through ball to assist Hazard for the winner was equally spectacular. Many players in the division can do those things but what very few are capable of however, is demonstrate such quality at either end of a game in which they’ve been running tirelessly, making interceptions and tackles all over the pitch. The 22 year old is well on his way to becoming our most valuable player.
Jose Mourinho – With a bench as a talented as Mourinho’s you could argue that it’s hard to make a bad substitution but regardless, the proactive response from the Portuguese was in hindsight, perfectly timed and also representative of the seriousness in approach we should expect from this team in pursuit of victories each weekend. The switch to a three at the back when Hazard came on in place of Cole opened the game completely – a risky but I’d say reasonable tactic; in those situations (against sides like Norwich) the manager has to be able to have trust in the superior ability of his players. I enjoyed his description of Schurrle’s role late on as a “false left back” too, trolling the section of the media who so often make more of manager’s tactics than they should attempt to.
The main source of optimism at the moment is that whilst we’ve managed to sort ourselves out and are beginning to look more like a team, there is evidently still a lot of room for improvement, with very few if any players yet to have started playing as well as we know they can. With title contenders dropping points every week in these early stages it’s important we can keep grinding out results like these. I still wouldn’t make us favourites for the league this season but I am certain of two things and they are that 1) This Chelsea squad has the potential to be outstanding and 2) Winning the PL this year won’t require any team to be outstanding. More than likely it could just come down to who can scrape the most wins like ours today – I don’t see why that can’t be us.