Well, that was fun! Our first ever victory by a six goal margin in the Champions League, unsurprisingly, could have easily been far more emphatic, as we tore apart the champions of Slovenia with consummate ease, and with the flamboyance of a team for whom everything seems to be going right. We’ve been entertainingly ruthless many times in the past. And we’ve played some beautiful football down the years as we’ve conducted some indignant thrashings – but I’m not sure we’ve ever looked as comfortable, as complete or as confident as we have so far this season. With virtually every section of the squad playing some beautiful, and equally efficient football, watching a Chelsea game these days is almost invariably 90 minutes well spent.
In an attempt not to get too overexcited by a victory against Maribor, here are five totally level headed, non-hyper observations from yesterday’s victory…
1) Our back up keeper is better than yours – The situation of our Czech goalkeeping legend is as depressing as it hilarious. One gets the feeling it won’t last much longer (as well it shouldn’t) but to have a keeper of Cech’s class available to come in as a reserve is truly ridiculous. He had Agim Ibraimi’s penalty covered all the way, and otherwise, never once looked like conceding as he kept what was (I think) his 223rd clean sheet for the club. Hopefully there is one or two more to come before what looks like an inevitable departure in January.
2) Unleash the full-backs! As awful as it might sound, after the victory against Crystal Palace was secured, I was actually quite pleased about the prospect of Mourinho not having Cesar Azpilicueta available for selection for a couple of weeks. I was one of those who strongly defended the purchase of Filipe Luis in the summer over the signing of a younger player, perfectly convinced of the Brazilian’s ability to instantly improve the first team. Against the likes of Maribor of course he will have enjoyed far more freedom to go forwards than he would normally be afforded, but his performance last night showed signs of what he can offer – demonstrating qualities which others in the squad plainly do not have. Hopefully, over the next fortnight he’ll manage to secure the regular position in the first team which I’m pretty certain he deserves.
3) We can cope without Diego Costa – Scoring nine goals in your first seven league matches might make you indispensible at certain clubs, but not at Chelsea. In the limited amount of game time he’s been given, Loic Remy has been nothing but impressive, proving himself to be a far more complete centre forward than perhaps some realised. The Frenchman’s link play, hold-up play, movement in the channels and in between the lines, as well as his ability to finish with both feet are all top class. His injury last night was a real shame.
4) Mourinho is giving youth a chance – Our 18 man squad might never have been stronger but at the same time, the senior side isn’t as deep as it has been in the past, which means this could be the year our supremely strong pool of U21 talent finally gets some oppurtunities to impress in the first team. The fact we finished the game with three teenagers on the pitch would suggest the manager is open to the idea also. None of Kurt Zouma, Dominic Solanke or Nathan Ake looked out of place on the pitch tonight. Perhaps the greatest compliment which could be paid to the latter, is that the standard of our play didn’t fall in the slightest when he came on for Cesc Fabregas with half an hour remaining. The young Dutchman broke apart play wonderfully well and his long ball assist for Eden Hazard in the final minutes was inch-perfect.
5) Eden Hazard should shoot more – The ITV punditry panel’s accusation that the Belgian can sometimes be selfish with his decision making after the game struck me as a clear a example of the player’s image and profile colouring others’ opinion of his performances. If anything, surely Hazard only needs to be more selfish; he certainly needs to be more clinical when presented with goal scoring opportunities. You sometimes get the impression that if he can’t score a great goal he doesn’t want to score at all and that’s a habit he needs to lose. Since Mourinho returned, practically every aspect of his game has improved, now the only way he’ll make that final step into the very highest echelon, is to become more prolific in front goal. And as counter intuitive as it might be, that’s going to involve him just sticking his foot through the bloody ball every now and then.