As we eased through to the last 16 of the FA Cup this (Sunday) afternoon, it felt extremely satisfying to reflect on how well the team has progressed since our previous game against Stoke, just 50 days ago. We’ve gone unbeaten in the Premier League since, with six wins and a draw at the Emirates, whilst in all in all, things just seem to be looking a damn sight rosier than they did back at the beginning of December. That 3-2 loss at the Britannia was only our third league defeat of the season but it was emblematic of certain problems that had been hampering us right from the beginning, particularly in matches away from home. ‘Why?’ we were asking ourselves. ‘Why could we not take our chances?’, ‘why could we not hold onto a lead?’, ‘why were we not finishing teams off’?
It’s clear that a corner was turned after the league cup defeat to Sunderland, where Mourinho suggested an imminent return to the more conservative methods that had served him well in past. And since then, playing and building from this new base-level of cautiousness, we’ve seen huge improvement in every area of the squad; we’ve also seen in my opinion, the most entertaining football we’ve played for a very long time, with Oscar, Willian and Hazard in particular, flourishing as part of, as well as under the support of a much more stable midfield and defence.
Ultimately, this afternoon’s game represented our current form pretty well. Although recently, we’ve tended to start quite slowly, feeling our way into games before reaching ‘top gear’ around the hour mark. Today however, we started extremely quickly, racking up the first half chances before allowing the game to fizzle out at towards the end. It was a pattern resemblant of our earlier, less impressive form; but the ease with which the lead was held on to reflected our recent improvements hugely.
Mark Schwarzer – Had about as much to do as he did against Derby County in the third round i.e. nothing. Good keeper. Top back up. 6/10
Branislav Ivanovic – Cole and Azpilicueta might have kept three consecutive clean sheets as a full back pairing whilst the Serb was injured. The manager’s trust in Ivanovic though is total it seems – the right back position is indisputably his for the rest of the season at least. 6/10
Gary Cahill – It probably isn’t an exaggeration to say the Englishman is in something very close to the form of his career at the moment. Playing with a match intelligence and a commitment not dissimilar to that of his legendary centre half partner – Cahill and Terry’s partnerhip looks to remain unbreakable for the rest of the season. 7/10
David Luiz – Not the Brazilian has ever affected an especially calm demeanour, but he looks particularly unsettled at the moment moving back and forth between positions. I though he played okay today though and was unlucky not to score a great free-kick, with Asmir Begovic making an incredible save late on. 6/10
Ashley Cole – Demonstrated well today what he can still offer the side. Whilst Azpilicueta very rarely ventures past the half way line when played on the left, Cole moves forwards brilliantly and links up smoothly with Hazard in a way the Spaniard cannot. 7/10
Nemanja Matic – A wonderful debut from the Serb, who in 90 minutes managed to demonstrate every single trait he’d be lauded for prior to his return. Breaking up play, bringing the ball forwards and playing all the right passes – very promising indeed. 7/10
Frank Lampard – Alongside Matic, Frank probably had his most comfortable game of the season, looking solid in possession and regularly finding positions to shoot. It seems obvious that Ramires and Matic will be the first choice midfield pairing moving forwards, however. 6/10
Andre Schurrle – I’m guessing this season isn’t exactly turning out to be the debut campaign Schurrle would’ve been hoping for. The German is clearly on a level below Oscar, Hazard and Willian but his talent is evident and his work-rate is incredible – he was another player unlucky not to score today. 5/10
Oscar – Nothing will make the sale of Juan Mata easier to deal with than performances from Oscar like he gave this afternoon. The Brazilian was typically mercurial in everything he did today – his free-kick goal was probably the second best of his Chelsea career to date. 8/10
Eden Hazard – The Belgian’s form shows no sign of slowing down at the moment – he was unsurprisingly far far too good for Geoff Cameron today, and how Ramires and then Eto’o failed to score from his sharp cut back pass in the second half, we have no way of knowing. 7/10
Samuel Eto’o – Another sharp performance from the experienced centre forward, managing to find space and use it intelligently despite being up against an extremely deep and narrow backline. 5/10
Fifth Round Draw:
I’m guessing I wasn’t the only fan watching the draw on ITV, when Andros Townsend drew Man City’s ball out of the bowl, who was thinking at this point, “not 12, God please not 12”. I’m equally sure I’m not the only fan, when Troy Townsend drew out the number 12 ball (our ball, obviously) to have thought to themselves, ‘shit’.
Jose however, visually much less disappointed than I was, post-match, simply shrugged his shoulders to the reporter and astutely pointed out if you want to win big trophies you have to beat the best and in the context of our ambition to be continually improving, away games at Man City are the ideal occasions to experience and establish improvement. I guess in hindsight this would’ve been a more rational reaction/outlook to take on the result of the draw, than my swearing and kicking a chair over. But then this is I suppose exactly why Jose is the Chelsea manager and I’m not. Well, that’s one of the reasons anyway.