It was a familiar pairing which linked up to ensure the Blues came out on top against Manchester United yesterday at Stamford Bridge.
It was no surprise to see Alvaro Morata leaping through the air to clinically dispatch a stunning header 10 minutes into the second half, and it was even less of a surprise that the brilliant cross from which the forward headed home was supplied by the boot of his compatriot Cesar Azpilicueta.
Azpilicueta, not renowned for his involvement in Chelsea goals previously, has now assisted Morata for five of his eight strikes this season, more than any player has assisted another in 2017/18. Azpilicueta has already equalled the number of assists he recorded in the last two seasons.
I told Azpilicueta before the game that I needed a cross like this. He made it and we’re very happy.
The duo first linked up in our home win over Everton in August, when Morata headed home an Azpilicueta cross to make it 2-0. It was a similar story away at Leicester when the striker latched onto another superb delivery from the defender to head us into the lead at the King Power Stadium.
In our next away game, at Stoke, Morata scored a wonderful hat-trick, but he had plenty to thank Azpilicueta for after he provided two assists for his team-mate.
Morata’s opener, scored inside the first minute, was a cool finish after Azpilicueta had played an incisive pass from deep, and the close-range effort which ensured he walked away with the match ball arrived after Azpilicueta had intelligently chested the ball into his path.
Yesterday’s goal was perhaps the pick of the bunch, particularly given its significance in the context of the game; a superb, pinpoint cross and a magnificent header. The winner.
The two players are good friends away from the field of play and their understanding on the pitch goes from strength to strength. Long may it continue!
Our success yesterday owed much to the performances of our midfield, with Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko taking a firm grip on proceedings from very early on.
Fabregas deservedly picked up the man-of the-match accolade, while the returning Kante, who hadn’t featured for over a month, played as though he’d never been away. Bakayoko was equally impressive and could have added a second for the Blues after he did well to rob Marouane Fellaini deep inside the United half.
A three-man midfield, with two players up front, has been the key to some of our most impressive performances this season, such as the away wins at Tottenham and Atletico Madrid, as well as yesterday’s victory, and Antonio Conte highlighted the importance of the system in his post-match press conference.
‘To have the possibility to play with three midfielders was very important,’ said the Italian. ‘This season we are struggling a bit to find the best solution for this team.
‘Last season we found great balance with the system, 3-4-2-1, but this season we changed many players and we have to find the best solution game by game.’
Stamford Bridge has certainly not been a happy hunting ground for Manchester United in recent times, with yesterday’s result meaning they have now won once in their last 16 league visits.
That result, a 3-2 victory in 2012, came when the Blues had been reduced to nine men following the dismissals of both Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres. Prior to that, their last league win in SW6 was in April 2002.
Of our past five league meetings at the Bridge, four have ended in Chelsea victories, with the game in 2015/16 finishing 1-1 as Diego Costa scored a late equaliser.
Since United last won at the Bridge, there have also been three cup meetings between the sides at our ground, with Chelsea coming out on top each time.
A 5-4 League Cup victory came just days after United’s 3-2 win, and in 2013 Demba Ba scored a brilliant winner as we progressed to the FA Cup semi-finals. That result was repeated last season when N’Golo Kante fired home a second-half winner to eliminate the Red Devils from the FA Cup once again.