Even in spite of everything this season, I can’t quite bring myself to talk about a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace (a club with a poor recent home record and missing arguably their two most talented players) as though we had achieved something especially noteworthy, however, I don’t think it would an exaggeration to describe this afternoon’s performance as our most impressive and enjoyably watchable win for rather a long time. There have been times over the last few months when throughout all of the struggles, we’ve picked up some good results; times when we’ve turned out solid defensive performances and times when we’ve looked good in attack also, but today is probably the first time this season that we have combined all three in a league match. Even if it turns out to have been another false start, it will have been our most promising false start to date. (You really have to take the positives in times like these).
The dust having settled following Mourinho’s sacking, the first signs of Hiddink’s influence on the group are beginning to show and so far, they look to be mostly, if not wholly positive. Despite having made no obvious changes, with the formation still the same and selection largely the same, immediately the desired effect of Dutchman’s leadership is apparent. Often the appointment of a new manager results in an increased amount of vigour or sharpness, but instead we seem to be calmer, more relaxed and less pressured to be playing the right pass 100% of the time. And with this greater freedom also has come a greater willingness to press and to track back. Still, there is obviously a long way to go, but the necessary first few corrective steps have been made.
Thibaut Courtois – One of his most straight forward games this season, no criticism to make. Except, why would you wear that much hair gel when it’s raining so hard? Your hair is going to look rubbish after a few minutes anyway, using that much gel is just going to make it look rubbish AND greasy! Someone needs to have a word with him. 6
Branislav Ivanovic – The Serb’s role on the right hand side seems to have become more restricted since Mourinho left. This is certainly better for his own defensive game and probably better for the team also. 6
Kurt Zouma – You could take a glass half empty view and say the Frenchman often gets into poor positions which require all of his athleticism and talent to get out of; but I’d much rather just focus on how ridiculously athletic and talented this guy is. I mean frankly, it’s ridiculous. 6
John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta – Our first two consecutive clean sheets in the league this season I think owe mostly to these two re-finding their form of last season, when they defended the left flank so consistently well. Without doubt the two most intelligent defensive players in the team, when they look solid the rest of the team inevitably looks more at ease. 7
John Obi Mikel – A surprise pick over Nemanja Matic, on the back of his performance today, It’d be a surprise if were dropped for the next league game against West Brom. One of the three first teamers to have worked with Hiddink previously, if he can find some form he may be a key part of our set up in the season’s remaining big matches. 7
Cesc Fabregas – Can’t find stats (didn’t look very hard) but today felt like Cesc’s busiest performance in the league so far. His two beautiful passes leading up to the first two goals suggest his form is returning. 7
Oscar – Drifted in and out of the game in typical fashion but made positive contributions when he was involved. Along with Fabregas, he will most likely be the one to thrive the most under a less demanding/rigid tactical framework. 6
Willian – Another great performance from by far the side’s best player this year. And another superb goal – his second best this season after his free kick against Southampton. 8
Eden Hazard – Now top of Hiddink’s to do list has to be to help the Belgian get his career back on track. Another painful looking tackle once again cutting his match short, his season is showing no signs of turning around. It’s a shame that he’s shown himself to be so desperately lacking the strength of character to deal with difficult situations this year and to be a leader, as well as a star. Hopefully as the results and the form of those around him pick up, so will the level of his contributions. 0
Diego Costa – Three goals in two starts under the new manager and a MOTM award this afternoon bodes extremely well. As much in need of a fresh start as anyone in the dressing room, he already looks to be calmer and more thoughtful with the decisions he’s making on the pitch. And all of sudden, a future at Chelsea is looking quite possible once again. 7