If anyone doubted Jose Mourinho’s commitment to the stance that his current side would only be good enough to win the league title next season, all scepticism must have been allayed after last night. Even after masterminding one of the best performances by any top side in Europe this season, the Portuguese coach continued his recent post game habit of speaking as if the ‘evolution’ of his team in preparation for next year, remains far more important than any trophy this season. And whilst it’s often tempting not to believe a word Mourinho says, every sentenced dripping with calculated subtext, it’s hard to disagree that City are still the deserved favourites. They were however, yesterday evening, subjected to without question, the best performance of Chelsea’s season thus far, as we saw what were hopefully our first genuine glimpses of the finished product which the manager has in mind.
The news of Aguero’s absence was obviously gratefully received before the game. The Argentine is the best player in Manchester and would be the best player in England, were it not for Suarez; he also has an excellent scoring record against us. His omission however still didn’t give me any real cause for optimism leading up to the game – the news that Fernandinho was not only out of the game though, but also was being filled in for by Martin Demichelis (who I’ve always really disliked as a player) had me daring to dream of a point at least!
City’s glaring weakness of paper was then soon realised in practice as Demichelis and Yaya Toure (who’s propensity to take liberties with his defensive responsibilities are rightly beginning to be questioned more often) were helpless as the central players selected by Mourinho easily controlled the middle of pitch, forcing the home team to play their football largely on the wings. It was a performance that demonstrated perfectly how important Fernandinho has been for Man City this season, by far and away their best signing since Aguero, his work as both a holding player (covering for Toure) and also his smooth link up play going forward has been invaluable to his side. And for a manager as sharp and experienced as Manuel Pellegrini, to rely on a Demichelis to just step in assume his role in a 4-4-2 was an extremely naïve decision, especially against opponents as energetic and physical as Ramires, Matic and David Luiz.
I had to work this evening and so couldn’t watch the first half of the game live. And admittedly, when I had a cheeky look at Twitter on my phone and read that Branislav Ivanovic had just scored a screamer with his left foot, I had quite a lot of difficulty picturing this in my head. The strike, so untypical of our (I don’t think it’d be unfair to say) ‘ungainly at times’ fullback was an incredible one , by any left footer’s standards. Probably our best goal of the season so far. Ivanovic has come in for some criticism this season for his often poor attacking contributions, one thing that can’t be said against the Serb however, with yesterday’s strike, those famous CL goals at Anfield and against Napoli and his Europa League winning header, he sure knows how to pick his moments.
Top 3 Performances:
3) Eden Hazard – Surely the highest praise that can be made of the Belgian at the moment is that his brilliance has become all but routine. Even against the best right-back in the division in Pablo Zabaleta, few I imagine will have been surprised how classy and effective he was, every time he was given the ball
2) Gary Cahill – I confess, at the beginning of the season the Englishman would never have been in my first choice XI over Luiz, but his performances over the past couple of months have been exceptional and his partnership with Terry looks as solid as any across Europe. (The pair have kept 8 clean sheets in their last 10 games). I also don’t think it’s an exaggeration to describe Cahill as one of the cleverest and most dangerous offensive headers of the ball from set pieces in the country, perhaps even in Europe.
1) Nemanja Matic – What a full premier league debut! As against Stoke, but to a far greater extent, our new signing demonstrated everything which he brings to the team in a near flawless performance against the best in the division. With his tackling, intercepting, wonderfully sharp and varied passing and powerful left footed shot, the Serb has arrived and instantly announced himself as probably the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League. (I refuse to believe when, in the second half, he just plain bullied Yaya Toure off the ball, I was the only when who let out a little squeak of delight).
Man City now have a very easy run of six fixtures – I’d be very surprised if they dropped more than two points. After this streak is finished however, they have an extremely difficult run of four games: Man Utd (A), Arsenal (A), Southampton (H) and Liverpool (A). If we can remain within two points of Man City before they enter that period then I think we’ll be in a serious position to make a move for the title, some tricky home fixtures against Spurs, Everton and Newcastle (this Saturday) have to be negotiated first – so let’s not get carried away.
To summarise, a phenomenal team display – perhaps even the best we’ve produced since the Champions League final almost two years ago. We’re now ten games unbeaten, having conceded only twice in those games, four of which were against sides in the top seven.
What games like yesterday’s demonstrate perfectly, is that Mourinho’s strength is the defensive, counter attacking game and in preparing his sides for big matches, it simply cannot be argued, he is the best in the world at what he does. Many have begun to voice criticisms recently at the lack of ambition or attacking fluency in his teams and while I can sympathise wholly, it’s not a style play everybody enjoys watching, but for me, the most entertaining games of football I’ve ever seen have involved watching Chelsea defend one goal leads by the skin of their teeth. And while I think the coach has a responsibility to allow the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Salah etc to realise their potential as attacking players by allowing them to freely play proactive football, I am resigned to the fact that we will remain, first and foremost a solid counter attacking side for as long as Mourinho is in charge. And if that results in more games and victories like last night’s, then I’m extremely glad of it.
Jose Mourinho: “If I want to win 1-0 I think I can as I think it is one of the easiest things in football” – Keep on doing it, Jose.