Last night’s game against Sunderland in some ways defies description. Jose Mourinho was obviously so flummoxed that in his post match interviews he had to fall back on the succinct and forensic summary provided by one of the game’s finest analytic minds. This appeared on Twitter in the moments after the game and before TSO stood before the cameras:
Strange performance. More lively and better going forward than in a lot of games this season, decent defending in free play but set pieces??
— Dónal_F (@Dr_BlueBayou) December 4, 2013
Remarkably similar to TSO’s interview eh? Uncanny non?
No not really, because anyone who watched the whole game will have been left thinking that Chelsea exhibited a more positive and sustained approach than in a lot of their games earlier in the season. I didn’t see the West Ham game but perhaps that was the template for more positive away displays, with Basel an unfortunate regression.
Four goals against one of the division’s big strugglers might not be too unexpected. But Chelsea kept conceding goals in a manner that meant the game only felt secure in a short period before half time, when at 2-1 Chelsea looked certain to score at will and for a nanosecond or two after Phil Bardsley put the ball in his own net.
Three goals, all from set pieces; I say that not to denigrate Sunderland’s effort, for God knows we have won a few games from the dead ball, but to highlight that despite looking far from relegation certainties under Poyet, Sunderland didn’t mount a sustained threat and generally our defence didn’t look too stretched. But once the ball was driven or deflected low into the box from a corner or free kick, it was “watch from behind the sofa” time.
I’m going to take the positive view that sometimes this happens in football and that it is not the harbinger of some class of defensive meltdown. I think back to games like our New Year’s clown car performance against Aston Villa, the game against City the year we won the double when the Terry/Bridge farrago was at its height. You just get games like this.
No, let us ponder instead two people of magnificence who have lit up Sunderland on their way through to greater achievements. One is the very fragrant Gina McKee, the other of course Eden Hazard.
Right, I’ve pondered Gina McKee so let’s move onto the Walloon Wizard.
Modern football has its systems, its tactics and its sophisticated analytics, but when an individual performs like Hazard did at times last night, he is virtually unplayable. Yes there are probably better defensive full-backs and midfielders than Bardsley, Colback et al but given space and dynamic support you feel he could do what he likes against anyone.
There have been numerous occasions this season when he has threatened to cut loose, but also others where a lack of tempo and slow movement of the ball throughout the team has left him easily shackled and ineffective. But this game showed just how important it is for Chelsea to play with the kind of intent and verve they achieved against Southampton and now against Sunderland. This type of game enables someone like Hazard to blow a defence away.
The team was similar to the one that finished on Sunday, with the Lampard–Ramires midfield playing behind Mata, Willian and Hazard, with Torres up front. The back five is becoming as unchanging as Gina McKee’s grace and poise.
For some, Torres’ failure to bury a couple of very good chances will be evidence that his brief revival before injury was yet another shimmering mirage in his desert of form. But I will remain on the wobbly fence of withheld judgement.
There were some individual errors last night, some sloppy passes, missed tackles, poor finishing, but three Premier League wins on the bounce, two away from home, forgives an awful lot of sins. It was in general a sound team performance, except for those three, yes count ‘em, three pesky goals. Curiously for a trip that usually fills us with dread, Chelsea haven’t lost in Sunderland since around 2000, apparently. And at 86 minutes it felt like one of those comfortable and perhaps season defining moments we have had there in recent years. But as we crept into six minutes of added time, it seemed as though we might just crawl out with a point.
Player ratings (based on the work of Gina McKee)
- Cech: Minder (TV 1989)
- Ivanovic: By Any Means (TV 2013)
- Cahill: Line of Duty (TV 2012)
- Terry: The Chest (TV 1997)
- Azpilicueta: The Old Curiosity Shop (TV 2007)
- Ramires: In The Loop (Film 2009)
- Lampard: Old Times (Theatre)
- Hazard: Hebburn (TV 2012)
- Mata: The Exonerated (Theatre)
- Willian: Wonderland (Film 1999)
- Torres: Missing (TV 2012)
- Demba Ba: Atonement (TV 2007)
- Mikel: The Lost Prince (TV 2003)
- Schurrle: Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (TV 1986)
The Guardian, John Wardle: “José Mourinho’s usual reluctance to single out players was abandoned after Eden Hazard ensured it was business as usual for Chelsea at Sunderland. Hazard was the inspiration behind Chelsea’s ninth successive victory on Wearside – equalling the top division’s record of consecutive away wins against the same opponents, a record that Chelsea already hold. The Belgian scored twice and created another goal for Frank Lampard, prompting a remarkable degree of praise from his manager. “We were creative and dynamic when we had the ball – and we had a special Hazard,” Mourinho said. “Normally I don’t like to praise a player but from the first minute Eden was amazing. He has a great talent but sometimes he does incredible things then disappears from the game. Tonight he was fantastic from the first to the last minute.””
The Daily Telegraph, Luke Edwards: “This was as close as you can get to a one-man victory in a team sport. Eden Hazard secured a win for Chelsea they persistently threatened to throw away against a vibrant Sunderland side who are already fighting for top-flight survival. Hazard was superb, breathtaking and virtually unplayable at times. He created one goal, an equaliser for Frank Lampard after Sunderland had taken the lead through Jozy Altidore, and added his name to the scoresheet with two sublime individual efforts that combined bewitching dribbling ability with clinical finishing. Every time Chelsea looked in trouble in the match, which was more often than the scoreline suggests, Hazard got them out of it.”
The Independent, Martin Hardy: “Here is the rub for Jose Mourinho. A quite breathtaking display from a player who did not return in time for training when he popped over to France last month, or the kind of defending you would never picture from one of his teams, and certainly not one with genuine aspirations to win the Premier League title. The Chelsea manager has that to ponder after another night that reminded everyone it is not his Chelsea; a mismatch of flair and failings that will drive the mechanical mind of Mourniho to distraction.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Jose Mourinho’s men triumphed in the type of game that makes the Premier League so admired around the world. The defending from both sides wasn’t always the best, from dead balls in Chelsea’s case, but on a night when Eden Hazard was at times unplayable, three points for the visitors against the bottom club always looked likely. As at the weekend, we again came from behind, this time recovering from a goal conceded after 14 minutes rather than 14 seconds. Lampard scored from a chance created by Hazard who then netted twice with splendid strikes, either side of a Sunderland equaliser. The contest between the Chelsea winger and Phil Bardsley was one of the features of the game and the full-back put through his own net to make it 4-2 late on, but all the Sunderland goals came from set-pieces and it was Bardsley who made it tight once when he scored at the other end, but the Chelsea goal was not breached again. We claimed our third league win in a row.”
Jose Mourinho: “We played a phenomenal game, our best game away from home. There was top quality, great creativity in the three attacking players behind Fernando and beautiful goals. Even the fourth goal was a great counter-attack.
“The game is about that, but it’s also about basic things, and we failed in those basic things.
“The most basic is to defend set-plays. In a game where we should win clearly because of the way we played, we had a risk until the last second.”
Gus Poyet: “The only thing I can say is that we tried our very best to the last second, to the last option, to the last ball.
“We competed to the best of our ability against an exceptional team – they had players today that are a different level and it was difficult for us to cope, but I’m sure every single fan can go home thinking at least one thing, that we tried today.”