PAT NEVIN: TELLING SIGNS
There was so much to admire about our second win of the season over Manchester City, and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin gets down to admiring it in this week's column…
The excitement of the win against Man City hasn't subsided yet and probably will not for a few days. It is hard to recall a better all-round performance from the team since Jose's return to Stamford Bridge. The biggest problem is trying to find out where to start when considering the individual performances from every member of the team. It is rare to see 11 players not only playing well but actually all putting in 9/10 performances. Allied to this was the control of the group against one of the most talented club sides around in world football at the moment.
It was worth underlining this was no smash and grab affair, soaking up pressure then nicking one on the break. Chelsea looked the more dangerous team for most of the game away from home against the title favourites, even if City had more of the possession according to the post-match stats.
If you hit the woodwork three times, get into goal-scoring positions a good few times apart from that and restrict the free-scoring forward line to little more than scraps, you can comfortably say you deserved to win the match.
The defence was once again superb with Gary Cahill catching the eye with numerous blocks, a dominant display in the air against Dzeko and Negredo, and of course his consummate reading of the game to snuff out chances. When they did get past the defence they found Petr Cech in form, the save from Silva's free kick was awesome, but it was second only to his diving effort to his left late in the second half, adjusting his arms as the ball swerved viciously at the last moment.
Azpilicueta yet again proved impossible to get past. Even the jet-propelled pace of Navas never quite got the better of his countryman. There were moments when you thought Jesus was going to save City but Dave always managed to get a foot in to divert the cross to safety. No one ever seems to get past him. David Luiz was as controlled as I have ever seen him and Matic could only be described as imperious throughout.
My biggest fear from the City side was not the strikers but Yaya Toure coming from deep, but Jose Mourinho ensured that the group as a whole stifled his influence. Every time he got on the ball, Matic was in his face and Willian was buzzing round him like an angry wasp. We often marvel at the work rate and energy of Ramires and once again he was superhuman in his efforts but I suspect that on this occasion Willian did even more power running than his countryman.
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If really pushed I would be tempted to give man of the match to Willian but I understand totally that would have been harsh on Matic, Cahill and of course Eden Hazard. It is all very well ghosting past and tormenting Premier League defenders, but on this occasion Hazard was making some of the best players in the business look frankly agricultural. There were even moments of showboating, maybe pushing it a bit at only 1-0, but we will forgive that.
The scary thing is that I think Eden Hazard can't improve hugely from how he is playing just now. I have said it before but it bears repeating, there is nothing that the likes of Ribery has that Eden doesn't possess, except for the innate knowledge that he is that talented. Last night he seemed to understand that this can be and should be his destiny, to be one of the very best players in world football.
In the midst of all this we have to remember that the game plan had to be devised and City's weak spots discovered and of course this is down to the coach. Before the game on Chelsea TV I started the show thinking that 0-0 was the most likely score line but two things made me change my mind before a ball was kicked. First was the teams, with no Aguero or Fernandinho there were clearly weaknesses to be tested. Chelsea seemed physically stronger and fitter as an 11 and then there was the killer statistic. Mourinho v Pellegrini beforehand read seven wins, one loss and one draw to Jose. Even if Jose had a stronger side in these meetings it can leave a psychological legacy and our man knows how to utilise this.
Maybe the most telling signal was when you looked along both benches and considered which was the strongest. With Nasri also unavailable, Man City looked pretty lightweight when you consider we had Oscar, Lampard and Ashley Cole sitting it out. For all of the season so far I have considered City to have the strongest squad in the league, they should have considering their spending, but they appear to have a number of players they just could not do without. If Kompany is injured they are in trouble, there is no single defender at Chelsea you could say that about. If Yaya Toure is out or just snuffed out they are hugely weakened and when Aguero is missing it seems to blunt them at the highest level.
Recently someone said to me that if Oscar is injured now that Mata has gone, Chelsea will have a problem. Erm, no. Willian can clearly fit in there, as could Hazard and even the young lad Lampard is pretty dangerous in that area I am sure you will agree.
Maybe it is too early to get carried away, but I always try to look at it from an opposition point of view. If you were an Arsenal fan or now a City fan would you be thinking anything other than Chelsea are going to be there or thereabouts come May, and in some people's minds we might even be considered slight favourites. I will not say that, I will enjoy the fact that we are the dark horses, the problem is that after Monday night everyone can see us clearly enough coming up on the rails.
So to last week's quiz question regarding the first player to have played for both Chelsea and for Vitesse Arnhem. There were quite a few candidates for you to choose from and quite a few of our players are obviously still there. Many suggested Patrick van Aanholt, Tomas Kalas, Gael Kakuta, Sam Hutchinson or Lucas Piazon. The correct answer as to who was the first player to have worn a first team shirt in a competitive match for both sides was of course Nemanja Matic.
There can only be one winner so the prize this week chosen randomly as ever was Debbie Molloy.
Next week to have a chance of being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me who was the last Scotsman to score a first team goal against Chelsea? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org