Saturday’s game at West Ham was never likely to be an invaluable learning curve with respect to the reasonable prospects of Chelsea’s season. More than anything else, it was an exercise and a test of competence, and of how easily we can dismiss and collect maximum points against unimpressive and out-of-form, bottom half sides; whilst any additional nuggets of information obtained would’ve been a wholly unexpected bonus. Fortunately, “quite easily” turned out to be the answer to the afore mentioned salient question, as we swept aside our lacklustre cross-city rivals without much difficulty at all, to record our second away win of the season. We controlled the entirety game, had pretty much all of the decent chances and were so conspicuously superior in every aspect, I’d say this was the first match of the season (since the opening day victory over Hull City) where I felt like I was watching a Chelsea side with the character and self-assured meliority of a title-worthy group of players.
Usually, so far this season, my pre-game ritual has involved checking my Twitter page to find the official team news about an hour before kick-off, and then throwing a miniature tantrum over the fact Mourinho didn’t pick exactly the XI players I would’ve done, before eventually getting over it about 10 minutes later.
Yesterday, it took me much longer to get ‘over it’ however – the decision to select all three of Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Ramires against an out of form and striker-less West Ham seemed a totally bizarre one – whilst an in-form Willian and Andre Schurrle both sat on the bench; Juan Mata may also be in form for all we know – it’s hard to tell.
Another selection decision which annoyed me was the decision to leave David Luiz out of the squad all together, in favour of Gary Cahill and sore-ribbed Ashley Cole. Interestingly, almost every preview of yesterday’s game which I read seemed to suggest that Luiz is in some sort of horrible form at the moment, and the Cahill/Terry partnership was the best thing in the history of things. That this is news to me would be putting it lightly. Football is famously acknowledged to be a ‘game of opinions’ but sometimes opinion has nothing to do with it. I’ve phrased it tactfully and deliberately even-handedly in the past but I’ve run out of patience – David Luiz is a better defender than Gary Cahill. He is faster, stronger, more skilful, more aggressive, better at bringing the forwards and these are qualities that Cahill’s marginally better penalty box defending talents shouldn’t be allowed to override. Hopefully Mourinho was true to his word when he declared Luiz would be his first choice centre half this season and he’ll return to the starting XI soon, where he unquestionably belongs.
After an extremely scrappy first 20 minutes, the game finally settled into some sort of rhythm after the first goal was scored. A brief game of head-tennis between the two sides precluded an aimlessly lofted pass into the penalty area by Cahill which was controlled terribly by right-back Guy Demel, allowing Oscar to take the ball away from a panicking Jussi Jaaskelainen and win the penalty kick, which was emphatically leathered in by Frank Lampard. 10 minutes later Oscar doubled the lead by receiving the ball from a deft back-heeled flick from Eden Hazard, taking James Collins out of the game and allowing the Brazilian to dribble straight through the centre of West Ham’s half before placing the ball expertly in the bottom corner. The game was finally sealed with a vintage Frank Lampard finish late on– the Englishman’s 207th Chelsea goal in a brace performance which ended his longest ever Premier League goal drought (10 games).
Oscar – Man of the Match:
Whilst I’m by no means disillusioned enough to think I have anything like an abundance of regular readers, I’m also conscious of those select few who are beautiful enough to read most of my articles, that they might be bored of me fawning over Oscar with the same old adjectives and phrases. And so, I’ve consulted my Dad’s old thesaurus to try and come up with a new, sesquipedalian way of describing why I think Oscar is amazing…
Basically, not only is our burgeoning South-American playmaker entrancingly luscious to observe, with his supreme blend of propriety and hauteur, but also with his estimable dedication to the less cultured requirements of the collective so obviously paramount within the context of his performances, it is impossible not to regard Oscar with the admiration appropriately reserved for a unique sporting talent. (Or if not unique, then at least along with the other exceptionally all-rounded playmakers of the modern era – Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, most notably).
Whilst a Frank Lampard brace could never possibly be an un-enjoyable sight to even the most ruthlessly progressive/unsentimental Chelsea supporter, I think it’s important that this game not divert our attention from the fact that Frank has been particularly poor so far this season and (whilst having adapted reasonably well) has obviously no place in this starting XI as a deeper central midfielder, should we have serious title aspirations. The sad fact is that Lampard’s finishing remains the only aspect of his game which is truly world-class and alongside Ramires, what is required of him in that double pivot position can be executed to a far higher level by Obi Mikel, as it was done yesterday, with the Nigerian retaining possession and recycling the play seamlessly, just like he did against Schalke in his last outing.
I was one of the few last season vocalising the opinion that Lampard’s contract shouldn’t be renewed, and whilst I was by no means upset or disappointed to see him retained, I’m now worried that my biggest concern about him staying on (which was his declension into unpopularity with the Chelsea faithful on the basis on his poor form) being realised, as a result of Mourinho’s constant selection of the 35 year old, to the disregard of fitter and more in-form players, (Willian, Schurrle, Mikel and Mata to name but four).
So, almost a third of the way into the season, sitting in tied second place with Liverpool isn’t such a bad place to be – the Merseyside outfit have been impressive all season so far yet remain defensively unconvincing and extremely reliant on the unrivalled brilliance in the division of Luis Suarez to win matches. Whilst league leaders Arsenal still have a lot to prove, although are starting to look more like the real deal with every round of fixtures that passes. The Gunners defeated Southampton at home yesterday, courtesy of two mistakes from goalkeeper Artur Boruc – we have the same fixture next Saturday as part of a five game streak of relatively easy matches before our tie with Arsenal at the end of December. Yesterday was step one of five completed, part two comes next weekend against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, a repeat of yesterday’s boringly simple victory would be most welcome indeed…