Very comfortable win in the end. Sometimes when you watch the game live, the sheer adrenaline does things to your mind. If you were to watch the game after it was over, you’d put the events of the game in perspective. The way I see Chelsea were totally in control of the game, in all parts of the pitch. Swansea never really threatened the Chelsea goal. The tense moments in the game were not from Swansea’s attacks but from our recent trackrecord of defensive gaffes. Meanwhile, Chelsea had chance after chance after chance to put the game to bed but we chose to win 1-0.
Jose Mourinho: They kill me every game. Every game I am tired at the end. At half-time we should all be relaxed with a comfortable score, but time goes on, we didn’t score the second goal and you feel that the opponent is keen to risk a bit more and put in a second striker and you are a bit in trouble. The opponent believes, but the boys worked hard defensively and in the last part they looked comfortable and we had control of the game, so a deserved victory and an important victory.
Team selection: Cech in goal. David Luiz started in centre back with Terry. Cahill is probably being rested and should be back in the starting eleven against Liverpool. Ashley Cole was brought back after that little Christmas party with his Arsenal mates that irked Jose. Ideally this should mean Azpilicueta finally moves to the right back but it was Ivanovic, the man that Jose trusts the most. Mikel and Ramires starting was good prospect as we had the deadly trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar starting. All these five players together kind of provide the balance between attack and defence. Up top was Eto’o as you’d expect Torres to be rested for the Liverpool game. The best striker in our squad is still Torres – the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.
The game was fairly comfortable for Chelsea. Swansea allowed us to play our game freely. And there was hardly any serious threat from Swansea. Chelsea had half chances, full chances, clear-cut chances and sitters. If our forwards had done what was expected of them, we would have easily won 3-0. If they had exceeded our expectations, it could have been a bigger win. Eto’o by himself was guilty of missing chances that would have settled the game at half time and we could have rotated players and played in a way to prepare for the Sunday game. Anyway, enough has been written about our deficiencies up top. interestingly Jose said we did all the right things but the Swansea goalkeeper made brilliant saves.
With the holy trinity of Mata, Hazard and Oscar starting at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea fans could have expected goals. Well there was mesmerising football and some killer interplays and one of them even managed to score a goal but all their hardwork kept on adding to the shot on target column instead of the goals scored column. Against Swansea, we should always be able to express well and today was no different. Chelsea played with some gusto and tempo in the first half but still ended we ended up with only a 1-0 lead at half time. While Chelsea creating chances and finishing them is not anything new, there was something else that was interesting.
The pattern that has started emerging (from the Arsenal and Swansea games) is the in-command midfield play by Chelsea. Credit should go to Mikel who has truly steadied the midfield for Chelsea. It might have happened at the cost of some tempo in our game but we had to do the trade off. We can’t be shipping away goals and hope that we would outscore the opponent. That’s because our goals are drying up. Sooner or later, teams would know that if they mob around Hazard, Chelsea’s primary attacking source would be severely impacted and Chelsea do not have a ‘one-chance-one-goal’ striker.
Therefore it was important that we stopped conceding the goals and start expecting us to score at least one goal. With more prolific strikers, you can afford to play with one or no defensive midfielders but in our current situation, we cannot take risks. Mikel and Ramires shielded the midfield well while Oscar was brilliant with his omnipresence. Oscar’s ability to tackle and to win the ball has come as a sweet surprise. Even before Oscar signed for Chelsea, numerous reports and profiles on Oscar focussed only on his attacking skills, passing and finishing and not on his defensive skills. In Chelsea, Oscar is surely becoming a more complete and versatile midfield player. Hazard and Mata were also pressing Swansea high on the pitch and were always prepared to track back, tackle, block or clear.
Our defence was solid, again. This time we had David Luiz and we were still solid. When he doesn’t do these careless casual errors, David Luiz can be such a good footballer. Every time Hazard has a great game, it’s odd to see Ashley Cole not having much to do with that. Ivanovic was our designated attacking full back and quite predicably all Swansea attacks were coming from his side but he was ably covered by Mikel or Ramires. It’s a shame that Ramires will be suspended for the Liverpool game. Luckily, Lampard’s performances have improved of late.
In the end, it was a good performance and a very good result. Our good December continues. Still in the two-point range up top. The only regret is that we could have seen more Chelsea goals.
To quote my improved tweet:
Did we play well? YES
Did we create chances? YES
Did we finish well? NOOOO
Are we still in the title race? YES
Am I happy with the performance? YES
On Monday, at Emirates, Arsenal had to wait until the 88th minute to get their first shot on target. Today, Swansea had just one shot on target the whole game. It is this tighening of the defence that I’ve come to appreciate now. Jose Mourinho gets critcism for his game plans. We should come to realise that the man has a ‘season plan’ and the game plans simply roll up to and contribute to the season plan. Don’t look at the game plan in isolation or you’ll miss the big picture.
Jose Mourinho does want Chelsea to play expansive football. He has tried several options. At the end, I think he too has realised that unless we have goal scoring strikers, no attacking play would be of much use and meanwhile, attacking play also exposes us to a certain extent and makes us vulnerable. If he’s not going to get the best from our strikers or if he’s not getting new strikers in the near future, his logical next step is to tighten our defence. I think we are going through that process.
Two clean sheets against teams that play good football and score a lot of goals should be a good sign for Chelsea. The next big test is this Sunday against Liverpool. Though I did hope that Liverpool get a draw against City, the Man City win also has its positives. Now Liverpool have been beaten by Arsenal and Man City. While they have beaten Man Utd and Tottenham, in the current context, you can say they have lost to title contenders and have gotten results against the catch up pack. Liverpool should come with dented confidence and that’s what will suit us at Stamford Bridge this Sunday.
The approach we take against Liverpool this Sunday should be very different from the one we took against Arsenal on Monday. At Emirates, it was a must-not-lose game. At Stamford Bridge, it’s a must-win game. We cannot let Man City go clear at the top. When the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool lead the table, I’m not too concerned as they do have suicidal tendencies especially in the second half of the league season. Whereas Man City is a mature and capable squad who haven’t hit top form yet (except at home games) and if they top the table, they can stay there.
It is becoming clear that Man City are the team to beat in this league and they should be our reference point with respect to this title race. If Chelsea manage to beat Liverpool, you stay closer to the reference point, if you don’t, you don’t. If Chelsea beats Liverpool on Sunday, it would be a very complete and satisfactory end to a very good half season. It would be a half season where we have successfully masked our problems and make people believe that we are real title contenders. Liverpool won’t be an easy hurdle though. The only time we played a top six team at home so far, we came out winners. With that result cheering us on, bring on Liverpool!