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.
Martin Skrtel threatened to dampen the festive cheer around Stamford Bridge with an early poachers’ goal after Branislav Ivanovic allowed Luis Suarez to get goalside of him in what was their first meeting since the Uruguayan’s infamous tasty exploits.
Nonetheless, we responded well to going one-nil down, and for me, conceding early was a welcome occurrence as it instilled a sense of urgency into the players and forced us to play our most attractive, expansive football that we have done so this season. Eden Hazard equalised with an incredible finish a few minutes after Frank Lampard drew a spectacular save from Reds keeper Simon Mignolet. Approaching the break, Samuel Eto’o scored only his third Premier League goal this season thanks to brilliant, persistent work from Oscar. The Brazil midfielder fed the Cameroonian attacker who worked goal-side of Skrtel to poke home.
With Mourinho, you can expect him to cook up a surprise or two in his starting line up in anticipation of a big game, Sunday being an adequate example. With Ramires serving a one-match suspension for picking up five yellow cards, Oscar was expected to move deeper in midfielder whilst Juan Mata started in the free number 10 role. However, Mourinho being Mourinho, the Portuguese pragmatist opted for David Luiz to partner Lampard in the centre of the park. In the days of Rafa Benitez, Luiz in midfield was not a rare occurrence, with the Brazil international excelling in that particular role during the FIFA Club World Cup tournament last December. All the same, Luiz has struggled to secure a regular starting berth this term under Mourinho, let alone feature in the Blues’ star-studded midfield. However, it is agreed that the club joker had a good game.
Moving to the attacking aspect of Jose’s chosen eleven, Willian, Oscar and Hazard were given the nod to support lone forward Eto’o. And it is fair to say the trio played excellently well. Their link up play was amazing at times and they carried out their defensive duties when needed. I get the feeling that the three of Willian, Oscar and Hazard is Jose’s preferred combination.
Upfront, Eto’o started ahead of Fernando Torres while Demba Ba failed to make the 18-man matchday squad, not for the first time. In my opinion, Eto’o produced his most impressive league performance in a blue shirt to date, with his brace-scoring performance against Schalke in the Champions League swooping to “Best Blue shirt performance” accolade. All the same, it was still an average turn out from the 32 year-old. Former Kop favourite Torres impressed after replacing the Cameroonian and seemed to posses a new-found lease of energy and belief as he threatened Liverpool’s precarious back-line late on.
Regarding the Southampton game on New Year’s Day, Luiz is suspended after collecting five cautions and the duo of Ivanovic and Lampard, who were replaced on Sunday, will miss out with respective muscle injuries as it seems the hectic festive fixture schedule is catching up with Jose’s impressively plump squad.
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “The first chink of light has been spotted between the top three and the chasing pack, a three-point gap chiselled out between Mourinho’s team and fourth-placed Everton to suggest a massed scramble towards the summit is thinning out. Liverpool, a point behind their Merseyside neighbours, will hope to come again and can draw real encouragement from their displays even in defeat at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge but those at the top will likewise hope they are shrugging themselves clear. “A big win, a big opponent, a big match,” said Mourinho. It was the kind of contest to get the juices flowing.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Once again, Chelsea and Liverpool took a walk on the wild side. Once again, the rivalry spilt over. Samuel Eto’o, Oscar and Lucas could easily have been dismissed. But once again, there was some breathtaking football, much of it flowing from the marvellous Eden Hazard, vibrant in possession, diligent in tracking back and deservedly man of a thrilling match.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “This is starting to look like his Chelsea again. Dominant in midfield; straining every sinew to match their opposition from front to back – capable of squeezing out the kind of performances that do not so much elicit joy as a grudging respect. And there they are as the season reaches its halfway point, sitting solidly in third place and just two points off the leaders Arsenal.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Goals from Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o keep Chelsea two points from the top of the table at the halfway stage of the season, as Jose Mourinho’s side came from behind to win. The final game of 2013 was an enthralling encounter throughout, and we were good value for our half-time lead having recovered well from an early Martin Skrtel goal. In front of a noisy crowd, the second half was end-to-end as the draining fixture schedule and high pace of the game ensured plenty of space on the pitch. Liverpool hit the woodwork but Simon Mignolet saved well from Eto’o, as he had done from Frank Lampard before the break. There were injuries and disputes over penalties not given too, but the result was a deserved and overdue victory over the Merseysiders, our first in the league since 2010.”