After comprehensively wrapping up the newly invented title of ‘autumn champions’, our quest to follow up this most deserved of accolades with its winter equivalent, has gotten off to a pretty marvellous start. It’s been far too long since the Christmas football period has been an especially merry time for Chelsea, but this year, everything seems set for us to successfully negotiate what Jose Mourinho refers to as the most ‘beautiful’ period of the English football season. Our current levels of momentum couldn’t be more positive, the physio room is practically deserted, the fixture list is as favourable as you could reasonably hope for, and our best players are all somewhere very close to their top form, while the manager without question knows his best team and tactics inside out. In other words, practically every sign/characteristic of a successful/trophy winning side, surely applies to Chelsea in this moment.
Three times this season, international breaks have threatened to stall our relentless progress and three times, they have failed to do so, with this latest break in the calendar preceding one of our most dominant home victories, perhaps of all time? In fact, so dominant was our 2-0 win that the West Brom goalkeeper, and by far the game’s most influential player, Ben Foster, described this team in the aftermath as the best he’s ever played against – not a trivial compliment from a Premier League veteran of 10 years or so.
Once again we started brilliantly, had all of the early possession and took a quick lead. In a more welcome change however, we continued to dominate and press hard and doubled our lead, killing the game, before half an hour had even been played. Quite how it remained 2-0 for the rest of game is a mystery, as we seemed to spend the middle third of the game performing an on-field interpretive dance routine entitled ‘1000 ways to almost score a goal’. Diego Costa could well have scored his second hat-trick of the season. Nemanja Matic and Oscar both went agonisingly close, while it took two of his better saves for Foster to deny John Terry, once in each half.
The ruthlessness of this team is a trait we’ve become familiar with down the years; when we’ve been at our best we’ve blown teams away with pace and power and quality. Perhaps never though, have we looked as easy on the eye as we did, particularly in the first half on Saturday. With Fabregas, Oscar and Hazard especially, linking beautifully time after time. The artistry, flair and elegance of the these players was put on show to almost unprecedented extent.
In his weekend preview for the Guardian, Irish football writer Barry Glendenning wondered whether it was possible Chelsea fans were becoming bored by the superiority of their team and the ease with which they were winning games? It’s true the outcome of our matches aren’t as intriguing as they once were, but watching this current side is something I’m not sure I could ever tire of. There’s a fair expectation that being a Chelsea fan, you’re always going to get to see great players, hopefully competing for trophies, but even at the very biggest and best clubs, moments like these were so many great players are collaborating to produce football as irrepressible as we saw on Saturday, that is something special to savoured and recognised for its rarity.
Thibaut Courtois – How do you rate a keeper who had literally nothing to do? Only his fifth clean sheet of the season, he’ll be looking to better his ratio over the next few weeks; though he may never get an easier one in his entire career as he managed this weekend. 5/10.
Gary Cahill & John Terry – In truth our centre back pairing had little more to do than the goalkeeper. The two of them were practically on the half way line for most of the game, giving them a chance to show off their passing ability, which is surely the best of any centre half pairing in the league. 6/10.
Branislav Ivanovic & Cesar Azpilicueta – It’s not often you see Mourinho’s full backs getting forward so often. Azpilicueta especially is beginning to get forwards more and more and is becoming increasingly effective. Like Ashley Cole, his crossing isn’t great but his passing from wide position is exceptional and his understanding of Eden Hazard’s movement is obvious. He is slowly becoming a world-class left sided defender. 7/10.
Nemanja Matic – With not a lot of defensive work to be getting on with, the Serb instead was allowed to indulge the more technical side of his game, keeping and distributing possession in midfield in a Sergio Busquets type role, making it look as easy as he does with everything else. 7/10.
Cesc Fabregas & Oscar – I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that Fabregas’ 135 successful passes on Saturday must be somewhere very close to our all time record. Gone are the days when we’d pass the ball round slowly and purposelessly in front of a stubborn defence – the Spaniard’s presence has taken us to a whole other wonderful level. He claims to be enjoying his football more than ever right now and you can tell. While Oscar is another player looking as good now as he ever has done. His cross for the opening goal was hit with stunning precision; his pass to Matic at the start of the second half should’ve wrapped a brace of top-drawer assists. 8/10.
Willian & Eden Hazard – The pace and the incisiveness of these two on top form, even with as little room to work with as they had, is something to behold. Willian’s energy was crucial to maintaining the tempo we set during the first hour of the game. Hazard’s goal looked opportunistic but his first touch and snap finish were also pure quality. 8/10.
Diego Costa – So this is what Costa looks like at 100% then. It incredible how already, after just three months, the Spaniard has demonstrated so many different ways to score with so much quality just a few feet from goal. Even when not fully fit, he looked a complete player, but as he’s increased in fitness and experience there are a few little things which are improving and beginning to make a real difference, as he’s beginning to win more aerial duels and take more players on; his repeated use of his chest to control the ball on Saturday was incredible also. Just how good he can become makes for wonderful contemplation. 8/10.