Having reached the stage of the season where suspensions start coming in to play for accumulated bookings, and when players are beginning to miss the odd game because of small knocks or strategic rotation, it’s been interesting to see how the team has coped without each of its key players in league matches, over the last week or so. When Diego Costa missed the Tottenham game, we managed superbly, with both Loic Remy and Didier Drogba proving not only suitable, but truly top class backups to have on the bench. Without Nemanja Matic however, we failed quite miserably. It’s difficult to say whether or not the Newcastle result would have been different with the Serb in the team but it is surely no coincidence that the only game he has missed has been our worst defensive performance to date.
Losing Thibaut Courtois is obviously no problem, whilst Filipe Luis, Andre Schurrle, Ramires and Kurt Zouma have proved to be the perfectly reliable squad players we all knew they were/would be. Yesterday though was the first time we started a league game without Cesc Fabregas, and though the result was a positive one, the game itself was atrocious, easily our most ugly performance for a long time. Hull certainly played their part; particularly after the early goal, their approach became very negative and increasingly aggressive, which prevented the game from flowing at all. We were certainly not exempt from blame either – even under the circumstances, it was a poor performance.
For once it was nice not to have anything to be angry about over Chris Foy’s officiating. In all honesty, Hull should consider themselves hard done by, as Gary Cahill was extremely lucky on two occasions – once in the first half for not being sent off, before Tom Huddleston was dismissed for a similar poor challenge later on; and once in the second half when a blatant dive went un-carded.
Overall the game was a throwback to periods of last season where scrappy wins were (more often than not) the order of the day. The defence looked solid with Petr Cech behind them, whilst the onus was very much on Eden Hazard to make the difference. As was so often the case last year, the Belgian was the sole provider of inspiration in a largely uninspiring contest. He opened the scoring after making a clever run in behind Andrew Robertson to head in Oscar’s stunningly accurate cross in the seventh minute; he then produced a fantastic run and through ball to assist the second. The only plain improvement from last year was Diego Costa upfront, whose run of poor-ish form continues as he continues to struggle against increasingly physical and special attention from the division’s centre halves. He has at least ended his ‘drought’, tucking in Hazard’s pass from a tight angle to seal the result. Costa and the Belgian have certainly been the stars of our home league performances this year. Yesterday was the fourth time in eight league games at the Bridge since August where we have won 2-0, with the pair each grabbing a goal.
My favourite quote of the week, this week came from a blog in The Times by Alyson Rudd, who made what I thought was an enjoyably accurate and lyrical comparison of the current Chelsea and Man City sides. She said, ‘'(City) are the big stage, loud-noise team of the division, the glittering musical with the gob-smacking set design and a stream of dancers’, while ‘Chelsea are more of a classic ballet; quiet and precise. They will soar on occasion but mostly they are practiced, studied and calm’.
Extending this metaphor to my opening point, it’s clear that without Costa that the ballet is still a fine spectacle, if not quite as arresting without its leading man; his understudies are still quality performers. Without Matic it might still be an elegant production but lacks crucial technical substance. Without Cesc however, it is clear, it is not a ballet at all. There was nothing graceful or refined about yesterday’s win. I think it’s incredible how one man can not only supply so much grace to a team by himself but also bring out the most graceful football from his teammates on such a consistent basis. The Spaniard might not be the most important player in the team – both Costa and Hazard may make more decisive contributions; Matic may provide the more important service in midfield, but there can be no doubt that it is Fabregas who makes the team so wonderful to watch. He is the sole reason the side has been a ‘ballet’ since he joined. I already can’t wait to have him back.