“It was a very entertaining game for the supporters. I was very pleased with how we started but then we lost a bit of our composure,”
Exciting, tense and a great spectacle with plenty of goals. It wasn’t one for the defensive minded and the rest of the season looks likely to be much of the same. In Chelsea’s first home game since winning the Champions League, the European Champions as all the players who were in the team last season were introduced as were surrounded by expectation. The expectation to deliver a performance of champions against newly promoted Reading. Looking at the final 4-2 result it can be argued that expectations were met but it wasn’t all plain sailing.
1. The back four – With news earlier in the morning yesterday announcing that former Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho would be joining QPR on loan, a flood of memories came back to me about his time at Chelsea, the defence was rock solid and possibly the best in the league, that is in stark contrast to the unit that played against Reading yesterday. All four defenders struggled in the first half. There were errors in possession, a constant struggle when Reading players dribbled at the defence. The prime example being when McCleary got the better of Ivanovic, Cahill and Terry before the latter conceded a foul on the edge of the box which led to Reading’s second goal. The run itself wasn’t one filled with skill or deception, it was a simple dribble but McCleary managed to ghost through all three defenders with ease. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the defenders. Cahill and Ivanovic got on the scoresheet whilst Cole set up Torres’ winner.
2. Petr Cech – I’ve never been in any doubt as to whether Petr Cech is a world class keeper but he does have flaws. His kicking off the ground during the game makes you wonder what they do in all these training sessions. Without Drogba there isn’t a player that is going to win the majority of battles in the air up front for Chelsea which means Cech now aims for Ivanovic but the room for error when a person is by the touchline is far less than a striker in the middle of the pitch and his attempted long balls to Ivanovic meant the Serbian more often than not was stretching just to reach the ball and keep it in play. As for the second Reading goal, it was a howler. These things happen but with a highly rated Thibaut Courtois on the books at Chelsea, continued mistakes will raise eyebrows as to why the Belgian is out on loan and not in between the posts.
3. The double pivot – I’m yet to be convinced by both Lampard and Mikel as to whether this formation suits them. Arguably their best performances came in the champions league games against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, both games Chelsea played with a more defensive look and especially in the case with the two legs against Barcelona, Chelsea played with three central midfielders. Lampard and Mikel are great players in a three, of that I have no doubt. However in this new look Chelsea team, they provide neither the tenacity of a Michael Essien, the positioning sense of a Makelele when defending an attack nor the creativity in passing and quick tempo play that was evident when Oscar dropped back into a more a central role. It may be a little naive but I would like to see Oscar and Romeu being partnered in midfield, it is likely that is the future pairing for many years, so let us help them gain the experience necessary.
4. Fernando Torres – I don’t think I’ve seen a player so fragile in confidence, the contrast to pre and post goal was remarkable. For the majority of the game Torres was bypassed and looked a spectator. His runs weren’t threatening but rather used as a distraction whilst the interplay of Mata and Hazard flourished. He rarely went challenging for an aerial battle and when he did he inevitably came up short. Then he scored. Torres looked like a completely different player, he wanted the ball and charged forward on breakaways. He threw himself in the air to beat the Reading defenders to almost everything coming his way.
Okay, okay. We won 4-2 enough with the negatives and time for some positivity!
1. There is no other place to begin than Eden Hazard, few would’ve predicted the extent of the immediate impact. I thought he might have grabbed a goal and an assist but the Belgian has managed three assists so far and won 2 penalties. Virtually contributing to 5 of Chelsea’s 6 goals so far. I mentioned the inter play with him and Juan Mata, it only got better when Oscar came on the pitch and the three together will be a force across Europe once they have some more playing time under their belt but let us focus on the individual. Hazard came to the league under an immense hype and a hefty price tag. Every time he touches the ball it appears to be a statement of intent, there is an arrogance in him, a sense of belonging here and with every dribble, every pass it is reminder to those who claimed he wouldn’t be able to do it here. Arguably my favourite moment of his performance was when he showed that he will not shy away from his defensive duties nor the so called “Physical challenge” that the Premier League offers. Reading and Wigan aren’t the best teams in the league but it was these games that critics said he wouldn’t be able to handle. Against the bigger teams Hazard can expect a similar sort of game to those found in Europe. He’s already a hit with the fans and although a long road awaits, if he continues with performances like these he could well be one of, if not the best player in the club’s history and the league’s history.
2. Daniel Sturridge – After taking on two Reading players and exciting the crowd, Daniel Sturridge aimed to curl the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box. No problem right? Well not according to the Chelsea fans, I myself was slightly annoyed that he didn’t opt to cross the ball to Torres or Mata but other fans took to voicing their displeasure by booing Sturridge. I don’t condone the behaviour but it seemed to make Sturridge more focused and he became a constant threat to Reading and more importantly it showed how good a player he actually is when he chooses to be a part of a team as opposed to trying to take on a team on his own. His highlight was an incredible cross field volley that found an open Eden Hazard some forty yards away from him. One performance doesn’t mean he is a changed man but Sturridge proved that he can be an excellent player when he keeps his head up.
3. The movement in the attacking third of the pitch was on another level to the static play seen in the past. Last year Mata showed the benefits of moving in behind and around the defence and midfield. This season he’s joined by Hazard and Oscar but that has also sparked the likes of Ramires and Sturridge to do the same. The fluidity between the more advanced players was extremely refreshing and will be a challenge for any side to contain. It has resulted in some excellent passing and sequences of football. As mentioned before Hazard with his directness and power when running at players is complimented by Oscar’s grace on the ball, others in the team may be elaborate at times but the Brazilian plays a simple game exceptionally well and his awareness on the ball is striking for a player so young.
4. I have my doubts over Di Matteo’s ability but yesterday his substitutions were spot on and that is what a manager can be judged on during the game. He went for broke as he brought on Sturridge to replace Mikel, leaving Lampard as the only recognised midfielder but his gamble paid off spectacularly.
The season has only just begun and two “okay” performances have seen Chelsea score six goals and currently stand at the top of the league with 6 points. It is obviously way too early to read anything into the league table and predict where we might finish, but if the club are winning without playing their best and the room for improvement as Hazard, Mata, Oscar et al. become accustomed to one another’s game this could well be a very bright season at the club.