The sensation after beating our north London rivals is one of gratification, further enhanced by the fact that we had given them hope in the first-half of securing their first victory at Stamford Bridge in 24 years, only for it to be cruelly obliterated in the short space of three second-half minutes. And for Spurs to be the masters of their epic downfall, it was an evening the Chelsea supporters will fondly recall.
SW6 derbies are typically not the most fiercely contested in England, but this one had to be, with both sides desperate for all three points for very different reasons. But one man clinically decided the destination of the points in just 16 second-half minutes.
Jose Mourinho has never lost a title race in which one of his teams has occupied top spot at the end of February. He has proven his expertise in the negotiation of the final straight, and our remaining 11 games will be an examination of his know-how as our “little horse” attempts to continue its charge to the title. Our 27th game of the season, however, turned out to be a close run thing.
Trips to West Brom have proved arduous for us in recent years. We had suffered defeat in our last two visits to the Hawthorns, and our fortunes did not improve on Tuesday night as the Blues were held to a 1-1 draw in an outcome that gifted Arsenal and Manchester City (on goal difference) the opportunity to leapfrog Jose’s men.
Following our gratifying victory over Newcastle on Saturday, we are once again in action just three days later as we travel to Birmingham to face a struggling West Brom side at the Hawthorns. This match presents us with an opportunity to extend our lead at the Premier League summit to four points for a minimum of twenty-four hours before Arsenal and Manchester City feature on Wednesday.
“A little horse that needs milk and to make a jump.” That “little horse” acquired its dairy liquid in the shape of the once-again incredible Eden Hazard to “make a jump” above rivals Arsenal and Manchester City following the Gunners’ demolition at Anfield earlier in the day while Manuel Pellegrini was left frustrated at Norwich. Subsequently, we moved a point clear of Arsene Wenger’s side and two ahead of City as we swept past a depleted Newcastle side at Stamford Bridge.
It was a fantastic performance from the Blues and Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese pragmatist got everything spot-on. The team, the strategy, the tempo, the mood. He knew the stakes, he knew how to win, he knew when to risk, when to gamble, when to hold. It was a masterclass in management, emphasising why he has uniquely mentored coaches who have gone on to become Premier League managers (Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarke).
Our bore draw on Wednesday night, courtesy of West Ham’s “19th century” football, coupled with Manchester City’s 5-1 win over Tottenham, left us three points behind Manuel Pellegrini’s aesthetically pleasing side. Jose Mourinho may say we are not embroiled in a title race, but we inevitably are. To be three points off the leaders at this stage of the season leaves you in a position where a title tilt is in your reach. However, we face a daunting task to evict the Manchester club from top spot, and Monday night presents us with a game we simply cannot afford to lose as we prepare for our first of two games at the Etihad in the space of 15 days.
A little preamble
Time huh? Bloody hell. To paraphrase a rather well known purple-nosed old soak currently bothering young athletes in the halls of Old Trafford, shuffling around corridors yelling ‘D’ye know who I am?’*
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says new £21m signing Nemanja Matic will not start against Manchester United today.
Fellow midfielder Frank Lampard could return from a calf problem while Serbia defender Branislav Ivanovic remains sidelined with a niggly knee injury.
To be top of the Premier League, ignoring the duration of our stay, playing at third gear without a consistent goalscorer is testament to Jose Mourinho’s coaching artistry. Despite not producing our best football, we have found a way, the traditional Mourinho way, to grind out results and overwhelm our opponents in the latter stage of the game whilst keeping regular clean sheets, helping Petr Cech become the club’s clean-sheet record-holder ahead of club legend Peter Bonetti. Southampton on New Year’s Day and Derby in the FA Cup were perfect prototypes of the mentioned procedure. We went in 0-0 at half-time in both encounters, only to turn victor 0-3 and 0-2 respectively. Saturday, away to the top-flight’s surprise package, proved to be another exemplar of our consistent aptitude to not play reasonably well and pick up points in typical Mourinho fashion, with a few more milestones in the mix.
Hull defender Paul McShane will miss up to four weeks of action with an ankle while team-mates Sone Aluko (Achilles) and Matty Fryatt are also unavailable. However, the Tigers could welcome back key midfielder Robbie Brady for our visit.
Susceptible to set-pieces, employing anti-football strategies and lacking a prolific goalscorer. Chelsea have been on the end of strong criticism this season. Nonetheless, the Premier League table does not lie. Third and two points behind leaders Arsenal, maybe we are susceptible to set-pieces, employing anti-football tactics and lack a proven goalscorer.
In many ways, 2013 has been a mixed year for Chelsea Football Club and its supporters. From failing to reach the Champions League knockout phase, losing to Manchester City in arbitrary circumstances in the FA Cup semi-final and the Mikel-Clattenburg furore to the euphoria of lifting the Europa League and Jose Mourinho’s second coming, it has been a memorable 365 days. With its highs and lows, ups and downs, it won’t be a year I forget. And it was one that ended on a high note with a significant victory over Liverpool.
The Observer, David Hytner: “Chelsea did little to quicken the pulses and when they reflect upon a victory that was chiselled from Crystal Palace, their only real source of assurance will come from a glance at the Premier League table. It shows them sitting prettily in second place, two points off Arsenal’s pace. Their next league fixture is at the Emirates on 23 December. This was anything but pretty. Chelsea got what they needed yet it was not the antidote to their recent toils. So many of their big-name players were curiously off-key. It is rather stating the obvious but title-winning teams surely have to be better than this”
The Observer, Sachin Nakrani: “This was José Mourinho’s first experience of managing at this venue and it is one he will not look back on with even a hint of fondness. Standing inside his technical area as Stoke’s supporters wildly celebrated a late winner that was as stunning as it was unexpected, the Portuguese’s mood became as black as his coat. He scowled in silence, with the words that eventually followed only adding to the sense that this had been a dark day for Chelsea’s Special One. Mourinho spoke with a mix of fury and frustration as he reflected on how his side had failed to record a fourth league win in succession having taken the lead through André Schürrle’s neatly taken 10th-minute strike. They subsequently dominated possession and territory, with their attacking trio of Schürrle, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard causing havoc for the hosts with their clever movement behind lone striker Fernando Torres, but, as Mourinho said, failed to “kill the game”.”