The response from the club to last Sunday’s defeat in Manchester with its transfer market dealings has been hugely encouraging for two reasons. Firstly, as reassurance that our reaction wouldn’t be one of foolish stubbornness in failing to recruit, and also, how it has served to create an atmosphere of enthusiasm which, after such an average start, couldn’t possibly have been sourced elsewhere.
A five point deficit at this stage is of course, nothing to be really concerned about, but the likelihood of a further slump given the nature of our performances and pre-season, certainly was cause for anxiety however. Mourinho’s public calling out of his players along with his declaration that this week’s training had been at a level close to the best he’d ever seen, meant there was at last some genuine cause for expectation that this Sunday would be the moment that things would begin to turn around.
What we saw instead of a consummate, calm and professional win however, was one of the most bizarre, unpredictable games of football I can remember; almost like a cliché of a Premier League contest – with its pouring rain and its penalties and its red cards and its goals. In summary, the kind of game which, if you win, can be happily moved on from and dismissed as one of those frantic one-off contests you aren’t likely to have to negotiate again for a while. If you lose however, it’s the type of fixture from which multiple worries and frustrations can originate.
Thankfully, we managed to hold on to our lead for the final half hour, and now, instead of picking faults we can celebrate our first victory of the season, Mourinho’s first win over Tony Pulis and most importantly of all, the first time we’ve played in a long while, with the discipline and character of a side capable of retaining the Premier League. The performances of Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic and Cesar Azpilicueta were enjoyably more like what we’re used to seeing. Eden Hazard was superb as well, especially in the last five minutes as he kept possession expertly to kill the game in its final moments.
Elsewhere, the three main questions with regard to selection before the match all yielded interesting answers. Doubts over John Terry’s place in the team seemed to be eradicated with his selection over Gary Cahill but were cast again only 53 minutes later, after being forced into committing a clumsy last man foul on Solomon Rondon. Baba Rahman apparently wasn’t registered in time to be included (strangely), but a third consecutive disappointing performance from Ivanovic will raise yet more questions over what Mourinho’s first choice back line should look like this season. Meanwhile, the question as to whether Pedro deserved to make his debut straight away was answered emphatically by the Spaniard and his superb performance, scoring, creating and covering a huge amount of ground. First impressions – an excellent, potentially inspired signing by the club, and one that could put us back into the Bookies thoughts as title winners.
Still, there is a very much a sense that this season’s prospects depend on the next seven days and what we can achieve in the market. News of rejected bids for John Stones and Paul Pogba show more than just an encouraging intent. With regards to the former, I’m not certain Everton are nearly as resolute as they make out in refusing to sell the young centre half. Reports they are looking at signing Inter captain Andrea Ranocchia shows at the very least, Stones’ departure has rather seriously crossed their minds. Paul Pogba looks a lot less likely however. The rumoured bid of £75m I think is a good deal for Juventus and a fair price, but having already sold Vidal, Tevez and Pirlo this summer, and with the Frenchman’s value almost certain to (at least) remain steady, their unwillingness to sell is understandable. I think we may have to look elsewhere for a big money midfield signing this month.
In hindsight, the things which made Chelsea such a great side last season – the balance and the form and the familiarity of our first choice 12 or 13 players – were the sort of qualities that can make for a great campaign, but not for a legacy over multiple seasons. These signings being clamoured for by the fans wouldn’t feel so much like bonuses at this stage as entirely necessary additions. As we finally seem to have got this season underway, it’s heartening to see that the club agrees.