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.
In what was a solid Chelsea performance, we climbed above Arsenal and Manchester City for at least a day or two thanks to a sublime Eden Hazard strike and a trademark Fernando Torres goal late on as the Spaniard marked his 200th Barclays Premier League appearance (Liverpool and Chelsea) with his eighth goal of the season and his second in as many games.
Ultimately proving to be a commodious victory, that was not always the story, specifically during the opening 45 minutes, with the Blues fluently squandering possession in their own half. We were almost made to pay the price for our profusion as Hull forward Yannick Sagbo somehow managed to volley past the target after Jake Livermore had closed down the disinclined John Terry. This was the perfect illustration of Hull’s high-pressing, the main element of our compound of adversities during the first-half.
Even so, it was a much-refined display from the men in blue in the second period, possessing an added sense of urgency, consequently increasing the intensity levels as we pushed for the all-decisive opening goal. That imperative goal arrived 11 minutes after the break from a source who has been habitually providing the goods for Chelsea, seducing French giants Paris Saint-Germain into stealing the headlines in the past 48 hours.
It cannot be questioned that Hazard has progressed leaps and bounds under “The Special One”, compared with the previous campaign, in what was his maiden season in English football. The Belgian bore “the bad trainer” tag, a reputation developed through his lack of effort on the training ground. His talent was there for everyone to see, however his performances were not consistent. After Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, the recently-turned 23-year-old has introduced a grade of consistency and elevated amount of defensive yield into his game, thanks to Jose’s coaching and unflinching faith in him.
It was yet another stupendous performance from the man Chelsea fans have learnt to expect from. With his metaphoric dancing and low centre of gravity, the Belgian frequently got the better of the Hull back-line, producing a trademark Hazard display. No step-overs, no complex trickery, just simply intent on beating defenders. With the former Lille man said to have been practicing shots from differing angles on Thursday, alongside his incredible balance and low centre of gravity, made for a lethal combination, one of which paid off.
His goal further emphasised his growing status as a truly world-class player. As he danced and floated through the Hull defence, the Belgium international, taking intricate touches, opened up an opening and it was the supplementary touch which put Tigers manager Steve Bruce’s son Alex Bruce on the floor to open the required gap for the perfectly placed drilled shot he delivered which justified the staggering valuations flying around various national papers.
It is Hazard’s repeated goal-scoring exploits and Man of the Match turn-outs which have caught the eye of the French champions with several papers reporting the Belgian could be on his way out this summer.
While Hazard was at the top of the game, the man ahead of him was not. Fernando Torres, who I thought fully merited his starting berth due to a couple of impressive substitute appearances, served up an uninspiring performance, but was still able to mark his 200th Premier League appearance with a well-taken goal, sprinting past Bruce to drill past Allan McGregor, who had spectacularly thwarted Oscar from point-blank range during the first period.
A massive win which keeps us right in the hunt, there is no doubt that our league position is testament to Jose’s commendable abilities. We are not playing the dazzling football Arsenal and Man City are, but we are still there. Our strikers are no where near prolific, but we are still there, keeping clean-sheets along the way. All of this is thanks to Jose, unquestionably the best manager in world football.
Well done Petr Cech!
The Observer, Paul Wilson: “If Chelsea are still not overwhelming their opponents away from home they cannot be faulted for economy of effort. A single moment of quality from the exceptional Eden Hazard was enough to win an otherwise scrappy and uneventful contest and take José Mourinho’s side to the top of the Premier League. Fernando Torres’s late second was mere decoration, Hull never looked like being allowed back into the contest once they had gone behind.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “The blue bulldozer is moving ominously through the gears once more. The significance of snatching top spot on Saturday night was not lost on Mourinho, whose coolly understated reaction underlined his reinvention as the ‘Happy One’. “We like to be leaders,” he said. “You can see the evolution of this team. It’s important that the team grows up and accepts the responsibility, because we knew that we could not lose this chance.””
The Independent on Sunday, Alan O’Brien: “There was a moment after a victory which took Chelsea to the top of the Premier League for the first time since September that Jose Mourinho was effectively asked to praise the once-again outstanding Eden Hazard. “The club made a big investment in him last year,” Mourinho said. “To bring a player from France and pay the amount Chelsea did was because Chelsea liked the player and now the player is not any more a talented kid, he is now more than that, he is a player who feels and accepts the responsibility; he feels and accepts that a team player is more than a talented player. Without losing his fantastic ability and fantastic talent he is giving us other things. This is a very good moment of his career.””
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Another win on the road, this time courtesy of goals from Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres, and another clean sheet, a record-breaking 209th for Petr Cech, sees us move to the top of the table. As in our previous away games this year, at Southampton and Derby, a tight, entertaining opening half ended goalless. And again after the break we made a spell of pressure count, Hazard brilliantly lashing in from 20 yards after another mazy dribble. The remaining half hour or so was played out in relative comfort, with the points sealed by Torres, who cruised past Alex Bruce before finishing coolly. For the first time in over five years, we have kept three clean sheets in a row away from home in the league, which means Cech overtakes Peter Bonetti as our all-time record holder in that department.”