How about that! A 3-0 away result against the strongest team in the group. 6 points after three games that had two away games. Now the next two games are at Stamford Bridge and makes it possible for us to progress and probably as group leaders if we could win our home games. Many would agree that Chelsea dispatched Schalke at their home in a clinical and professional way. In some ways, the phrase ‘clinical and professional way’ could be he euphemism for ‘good result, bad performance’.
With Schalke missing several key players and Chelsea missing none (Cole aside), I certainly had a pre-match expectation of Chelsea fully capitalising on the situation. Then again, we are talking about a Jose Mourinho team. The master pragmatist would have known that Schalke is depleted and that doesn’t necessarily mean we can destroy them. He could think that this means we don’t need to exert ourselves too much as we have a big game on Sunday. And that’s exactly how Chelsea played. All through the game we didn’t go beyond the first gear, almost with a confident awareness that anything above would not be necessary. The early goal made it even more easier for Chelsea and their probable game plan. The point to note here would be if Schalke had equalised, Chelsea would have surely upped the gear to secure a win. As Schalke didn’t, Chelsea were happy with the proceedings and just didn’t want to take the initiative to put the game beyond Schalke’s sight.
In a way it’s a magical balance of knowing how much effort at a minimum is required to get a win and doing just that without risking the result. It’s a difficult efficiency formula. If anyone’s got that formula nailed on, it should be Jose Mourinho. As a fan, though I’d have loved to see Chelsea dismantle Schalke with style, I’m no less happy to see Chelsea come up with a performance and result that perfectly fits with an away champions league group fixture.
If we know Jose Mourinho a little bit, he’d have used this game as a practical training for some of the tactical plans against Man City on Sunday. As soon as we scored the first goal that early, I was sure that this was going to end something like 3-0 for Chelsea because of how good we are with counterattacks these days. If you see the number of goals we have been scoring in the last 15 mins of the game, almost all of them have come from counterattacks. I’m sure we are gaining a reputation for our counterattacks and that’s very important as I think that would make teams to play more cautious and allow us more possession, and when opponents lose the ball, you’ll see them (opponents) panic. With more possession and control, we have the kind of attacking players to open up any defence. That’s not to say we have peaked. We are still a bit rough on the edges in all departments except goalkeeping. We are still a work in progress.
While we are still a work in progress, I could clearly see the improvement in Chelsea over the last two months. Now we seem to play like a team. It appears all players exactly know what’s the game situation and what each of them are expected to do in that situation. That’s a hall mark of any Jose Mourinho team. The team becomes one unit and the unit as a whole decides defend, attack, respond, hurry, scurry or control. There’s this telepathic understanding among players on what as a team do we want from this game now in this situation.
Defensively we have become more solid, midfield is a worry but not impacting us for now, strikers are scoring and so are our attacking midfielders and as a team we seem to have learnt again on how to secure the results, no matter what happens on the pitch. What’s adding a new dimension to our team is our strikers’ form and confidence. When Mourinho bugged up Torres, I thought that’s typical of Jose to motivate his players by either elevating them to great heights (or dumping them out of sight). But then, Torres has been brilliant on the pitch and goals have started coming. Eto started slowly but even he’s been extremely active and busy and got himself a great debut goal. With Torres, we’ve had as many false alarms as he’s had goals. But something tells me that he’s found his optimum form. One to wait and watch.
Chelsea didn’t have a great start in the premier league and in the champions league. If the media were to be believed, we were in a bit of a crisis too. Here we are second in the premier league two points off the top and on top of the champions league group stages. The real test is upon us this Sunday. All those things that have helped us to get here – defensive ability, strength of the midfield, ability to open up defences, strikers playing with confidence, swift counterattacks, attacking substitutions, risky formations – everything will be put to real test.
Over the last few seasons, we have really struggled against Man City. So much so that they seem to simply dismiss us with ease. Soon, the games against Man City have become my ‘games I least expect us to win’. We will see how this new Chelsea team handle the mature, physical and experienced Man City team. Jose is slowly turning Chelsea back into a results machine. There’s a great deal of calm, control and composure about the team now when compared a couple of months back. If Chelsea beat Man City this Sunday at Stamford Bridge, that would be quite a milestone in this premier league season for us. There’s an F word I can use after the Sunday’s game. Hope that’s ‘Favourites’.