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.
A trip to St Mary’s in atrocious weather conditions is not exactly in the minds of Jose Mourinho and his players when they doze off. However, fantastic attacking and defensive performances kicked off the new year in emphatic fashion as the Blues won to breathe down the necks of Arsenal and Manchester City, who both came out victorious in their respective fixtures against Welsh opposition in the shape of Cardiff and Swansea.
Goals from Fernando Torres, Willian and Oscar sealed a vital three points as another Mourinho masterstroke paid off. With the introductions of Willian and Oscar, we moved up a gear and overwhelmed the Saints, similar to our approach last month when we fell behind after 12 seconds. However, Juan Mata was not amused, and being an outstanding professional, it was the first occasion where he wore an exasperated look. With the January transfer window open, a move away from Stamford Bridge is emerging as a looming possibility.
Meanwhile, his Spain team-mate Torres looked sharp and ready to pounce all afternoon and I was generally impressed with his performance from the first minute to the last. I’ve always considered the 29-year-old as a more preferable option to Samuel Eto’o, mainly due to his injection of pace. On Sunday, he came on and instantly began beating defenders with unexpected bursts of speed and it was the same story again here as he repeatedly got the better of the Southampton back-line.
Eden Hazard, who has been Chelsea’s best player this season, swooped yet another Man of the Match with an excellent all-round display. With Mourinho recognising the Belgian’s talents, he was handed the privilege of a free role without an exact set position. It turned out to finely suit him as Oscar and Willian joined the fray only to wing positions.
Not only was it a clinical attacking display in the second half from the Blues, it was a solid, gritty and determined showing from the Chelsea back-line, only once caught out after Ricky Lambert snuck in ahead of John Terry only to head into the hands of Petr Cech from point-blank range. I was greatly impressed by all four defenders, but Cesar Azpilicueta stood out for me. His heroic blocks while yet possessing the energy to get forward and support whoever was on the wing (Andre Schurrle, then Willian when he came on) was to be admired.
However, what I considered to be the best Chelsea display this season thus far was dampened by a ridiculous Oscar dive, something I don’t like to see in our beautiful game. He could have slotted the ball in past Saints keeper Kelvin Davis but absurdly chose to take a tumble.
With no over-riding surprises, our luxuriously plump squad was once again used in our advantage as Jose was able to rotate the squad and still field a top side. With Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard out with muscle injuries, a common occurrence during the congested festive period, Ashley Cole was recalled at left-back while Azpilicueta moved to his favoured right-back post. John Obi Mikel, someone who can fill-in and make a player’s absence unnoticeable, partnered Ramires, who returned from a one-match suspension. The Brazilian midfielder has started every Premier League match when available as he seems to have established his post as Mourinho’s preferred midfield man. Regarding the rotations, Brazilian pair Oscar and Willian made way for Schurrle and Mata, the duo they would later replace before the hour mark. The fact that Hazard was the only player to retain his place in the prestigious three behind the striker further emphasised the Belgian’s importance and relevance to this Chelsea side.
An emphatic attacking and defensive display keeps us well in the hunt whilst defying the critics. How pleasuring would it be if we lift the Premier League title without a goalscorer, being susceptible to set-pieces and employing anti-football tactics. And lift it defying the critics.
The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “It was a day when we saw the good and the bad of Oscar but perhaps also the genius of Jose Mourinho. With 53 minutes of this match gone, the wild south coast weather had looked the most likely victor as both Chelsea and Southampton toiled to limited effect in the lashing rain and wind. Exit Juan Mata and Andre Schürrle. Enter Oscar and Willian and, less than half-an-hour later, Chelsea had swept to an emphatic 3-0 win after their most convincing passage of football this season.”
The Guardian, James Riach: “Perhaps these are the sort of afternoons that José Mourinho professed to miss so much during his absence from the Premier League. As the wind and rain swept in off the south coast it was Mourinho who stood tall amid the storm and masterminded his side to a fourth league victory in five with two decisive substitutions. However, a convincing win ended with Mourinho fielding questions on Juan Mata’s future at Chelsea. The Spaniard, whose withdrawal was met with despondency and an angry reaction when he reached the dugout, has been linked with a January transfer after falling down the pecking order and Mourinho did little to quell such talk by saying “the club’s door is open”.”
The Independent, Nick Szczepanik: “Mourinho claimed he had not witnessed Mata’s reaction, and said that he wanted the Spain playmaker to stay at Stamford Bridge, although he also said that ‘my door is always open’ if players want to discuss their futures. “I think his frustration was that we had to win and when he came off, the team was losing two points. At the end everyone was happy in the dressing room so I have to believe that.””
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “We opened 2014 in a similar manner to how we ended 2013, producing an impressive performance to secure an important three points at St Mary’s as second half goals from Fernando Torres, Willian and Oscar gave us a 3-0 win against Southampton.”