Neither of Chelsea’s two victories to begin this season has been particularly convincing, but both have provided extremely welcome and promising signs of improvement. The way in which we were able to limit both Watford and West Ham to a negligible number of serious attempts on target; the way we were able to control the midfield for the majority of the game; and in particular, both of Diego Costa’s well-taken late winners bode well for our objective of becoming serious challengers for the league title this season. To have followed up one positive result with another is a pleasant, almost unfamiliar feeling also.
This afternoon’s win over Watford however, was a difficult game and one which I think served to highlight the remaining limitations of this squad. For the entirety of the match Costa had no room to work in, hemmed in by the oppositions back three; lining up with a sole striker against a 3-5-2 the emphasis was always going to be on Oscar and Nemanja Matic to provide support with runs from midfield, which neither were able to make effectively. Both full backs also stayed extremely deep and narrow which allowed the Watford wing backs to essentially man-mark Eden Hazard and Pedro, forcing them into an already extremely congested midfield.
The narrowness of our defence was also the reason the opening goal was conceded, with Etienne Capoue finding space on the right wing to finish brilliantly. I think up until that point we were marginally the better team but it was clear sufficient opportunities to turn the game around weren’t forthcoming without an aggressive change in system. The impact of Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas once they were introduced was outstanding. The former timing his run perfectly to tap in a Hazard rebound and the latter feeding through Costa with astonishing speed and precision after recovering possession deep in our own half. Both goals were the result of wonderful pieces of quality in what was otherwise a particularly stodgy contest.
Thibaut Courtois – As with the West Ham game, little to do and blameless with the goal. Yet to contribute in a big way so far. 6/10
Branislav Ivanovic – Was caught too narrow for the Watford goal but otherwise I think he’s looked OK and more solid in the absence of the attacking responsibility he was assigned under Jose Mourinho. 6/10
Gary Cahill – Probably our best defender of the season so far. He looks in good form and motivated to hold down a first team place as new centre half additions are heavily rumoured. 7/10
John Terry – Two standard performances so far, but neither opponent so far has offered a serious threat in terms of speed with which to target the 35 year old. 6/10
Cesar Azpilicueta – The best (and only) natural full-back in the first team looks as comfortable now defending the left flank as he does the right. Rumoured interest in Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg could be good news for the Spaniard though, as he is still far more effective moving forwards when he starts on his natural side. He didn’t get forwards enough this afternoon. 7/10
N’Golo Kante – Two good opening matches but his positioning has been frustratingly deep. His ability to break up the play is remarkable but so is ability to press the opposition and distribute quickly from midfield and we haven’t seen enough of that. 6/10
Nemanja Matic – The Serb hasn’t really done much wrong but with so much of the possession for both sides in these first two matches being enjoyed in the middle third, it feels as though as he should have been able to exert more influence. 6/10
Oscar – Excellent in the first game but way too quiet this afternoon. Fans are already clamouring for him to lose his place to Cesc. He needs to find some consistency quickly or risk losing his place for good. 5/10
Pedro – Didn’t stay high or wide enough to offer a threat on the right wing and gave the ball away a few times when he came into midfield. I think for the moment, Victor Moses should be second choice behind Willian for that position. 3/10
Eden Hazard – This was a tricky game for him but when he did find space he looked sharp. Easily our best player in these two opening matches. 8/10
Diego Costa – Two games, two second yellow cards fortunately avoided and two winning goals. He’s back! 7/10
It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the way in which we’ve begun the season (from a tactical point of view) represents a compromise Antonio Conte has been forced to make as he awaits required defensive signings to be made. The attacking qualities of Batshuayi and Fabregas instantly changed the game once they were introduced, both seem to be in excellent form, yet he seems reluctant to utilise them at the risk of excluding players he knows he can rely on to screen the backline more effectively than the Spaniard is able to.
New defenders are necessary not only to serve as upgrades to our aging roster but also to allow the clubs forward players to realise the extent of their potential under Conte’s coaching. If we fail to sign anyone in the next 11 days, then the likelihood is that this enforced conservatism which has characterised our approach to these opening two games will likely become the defining tactical feature of our season. And nobody wants that…