‘More of the same’ was what we all wanted, following this most inconvenient of international breaks, and more of the same was exactly what we got. Another thoroughly entertaining game, another wonderful attacking performance and another slightly concerning defensive outing, that once again, didn’t really matter. Four wins from four, still top of the table and still looking very good for our billing as favourites.
And though the results on paper don’t look the most impressive – matches against promoted teams and Swansea at home aren’t the trickiest fixtures we’ll play this year. Still it’s worth bearing in mind, Leceister so far have drawn against Everton, Arsenal and beaten Stoke City away, few teams will win away against Everton this year, while Swansea had won every game before yesterday. Make no mistake, we’ve played some very good teams so far and made them look extremely average defensively. Here are ten thoughts from the yesterday’s game…
1) Costa’s form continues – To begin with the most obvious observation, Diego Costa really is rather good, isn’t he? The PL Player of the Month for August, consolidated his great start to life at Chelsea with his first hat-trick in a blue shirt. To call him the ‘missing piece’ from last year would be a boring cliché, but one could be forgiven for supposing that last season, Fabregas’ corner at the end of the first half would’ve been easily cleared away; his and Hazard’s beautiful exchange on the edge of the area would’ve found no one and Ramires’ scuffed shot would’ve trickled harmlessly into the keeper’s gloves. Instead, Costa was there in all three situations, to lead his side to victory, once again. The point being, not that these were great goals, but that the player knows exactly what he has to do and is willing to do whatever he needs to, to get the ball in the back of the net. And for his efforts, he is now the first player in history to score seven goals in his first 360 Premier League minutes. It hasn’t just been about the goals either; it’s been the hold-up play, the link-play, the understanding with Fabregas, the movement out-wide to make space for Hazard. Mourinho has repeated several times lately that Costa was the striker he was waiting for last year; he’ll be feeling very glad he waited right now.
2) Fabregas is pretty good as well – As much as it would’ve seemed twisted just a few months ago for Chelsea fans to delight in seeing Cesc Fabregas thrive, the Spaniard is undeniably a joy to watch at the moment. Following three frustrating years in which he was void of any set position, he now seems to be occupying his ideal role, surrounded by teammates whose movement is sharp, fast, varied and incisive; he is in his element stringing it all together. For perspective on his contribution so far, last season Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s lead assist maker with seven. Cesc already has six!
3) But where should he be playing? – When Fabregas signed, many were convinced his stock position had to be in midfield next to Nemanja Matic, an opinion evidently shared by Mourinho and one which has been vindicated thus far. It is however, beginning to look like using Fabregas this deep position is a luxury, and one which comes at a cost. Conceding six goals in four games is poor by our standards, and we know there’s nothing wrong with the back four, the goalkeeper or the work of Matic just in front of the defence. Having Cesc in midfield where he can control the game as well create chances is a wonderful attacking advantage, but it does leave us weaker defensively and we will continue to concede more chances if Mourinho perseveres. If he continues to provide assists at this rate then it won’t matter, but it’s something to bear in mind. Something tells me he won’t play in that role at the Etihad next Sunday.
4) We’re dead good from corners – In the history of the Premier League, has there ever been a more daunting set-up from a corner kick routine, than with Fabregas swinging in those pinpoint, hard, flat crosses, with Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic, Matic and Costa to aim for? With arguably the best set piece taker in the league, and five of the biggest, most powerful and effective offensive headers of the ball in the country, maybe even Europe, it’s wonder we’ve only scored twice from corner situations so far this year.
5) Oscar looks close to his best – Our young Brazilian can be a confusing player but it’s always very simple to tell when the 23 year old is in form, because he’s simply never out of the game. As he was yesterday, he’ll be everywhere on the pitch – making tackles, tracking back, pressing defenders and linking attacks in the final third. Almost invariably it seems that when Oscar plays well, Chelsea play well, and in the second half yesterday, this again proved to be the case. Similarly, it’s easy to tell when Eden Hazard is in form because you simply never know what he’s going to do in possession (as the Swansea defenders clearly didn’t at times), when he’s struggling he becomes more predictable. Like last season, the Belgian has started the season slowly, but when he reaches his best form, on top of everything else we’re seeing, our attacks could become a real thing of beauty.
6) What to do with Ramires? Currently the player dividing fan opinion the most extremely, must be Ramires. The Brazilian was poor last week and for much of last season, but with three assists and a goal in two games, he is undeniably making a difference at the moment. Currently I’m not sure whether to think the importance of what Ramires provided in his first years at the club masked his technical deficiencies, or whether his recent drop-off is just a simple, temporary loss of form. The fact the club rejected a bid from Real Madrid suggests Mourinho is convinced it is the latter, and that the Brazilian remains far more than just a squad player in this team. He is surely guaranteed to start against City next week.
7) Azpilicueta is first choice left back – With Azpilicueta’s inclusion in the squad once again over Filipe Luis, it would seem the Spaniard is Mourinho’s first choice left back for the season. Like everyone else, I could never have a bad word to say about last season’s Player’s Player of the Year, but I’m not sure I agree with this decision. When you spend £16m on primed quality, he at least needs to be given an opportunity in the XI and I hope we see Filipe start on Wednesday.
8) A great debut for Remy – In his presser on Friday, Mourinho claimed that Remy was ‘perfect’ for Chelsea, and on the basis of the very little evidence available since the Frenchman signed, I’m inclined to agree. Considering his age and obvious ability, his career has been a surprisingly uninspiring one so far, given he seems to have everything which a top club must look for in a striker. In playing style, mind-set and in quality, he looks extremely promising and, especially in current form, the ideal (maybe long-term) support for Diego Costa moving forwards.
9) Will Andre Schurrle keep his place? – The selection of the German yesterday seemed like a pretty strong indication Mourinho was prepared to make him a regular in the side this season. His withdrawal at half time and the subsequent improvement which the squad experienced might have thrown a spanner in the works. The conundrum with Schurrle will always remain the same. If picked regularly he will score goals but he will also bring down the overall quality of our front six. In my opinion, he should be persevered with; I’d be shocked if makes the team in Manchester next weekend though.
10) We need to start games faster – One possible area for improvement? At the moment, our ridiculous start against Everton stands in isolation compared to the rest of our matches in which we’ve started slowly and quite poorly as well. So far we’ve managed to regroup and improve quickly enough to win games; it seems inevitable at some point however, that one of these slow starts will cost us points.
The Champions League returns this week, with Chelsea playing Schalke on Wednesday night and it’s interesting to consider just what our ambitions should be in the competition this year. Last season, progression to the latter stages always felt like a welcome bonus, whilst even at the semi-final stage, success always felt like an outside possibility. This year, in my opinion, we still don’t feel like serious contenders, though this new team looks capable, I think it may need a while longer together to reach the required standard.
We will however, need to assume the responsibility of approaching every game in a manner befitting of a European powerhouse, and not be intimidated by anyone, as this season may present a fantastic opportunity for us to win our second star. With Barcelona under new management, Real Madrid struggling with the loss of Di Maria and Alonso, and with Bayern Munich perennially suffering from injuries, this could be the season to capitalise, while the game’s superpowers won’t quite be at their best. With so many good teams and with the margins always so small, you have to take every chance you get in this competition. For now, I think next year will be our time to make a serious challenge.