Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Chelsea's Start: Domestic Break Musings

Three games gone, and this being UEFA Super Cup week for Chelsea fans, it is a break from the domestic season and it affords a chance to look back at how the team started the Premier League season. It’s still early days, but it’s fair to say (or at least, one can be confident that it will soon be fair to say) that Chelsea’s spending in the transfer window - particularly the most expensive acquisition - has been vindicated.

After a rather average pre-season showing (including the Community Shield) where the defence had more holes than a shop of sieves, Chelsea started the season in the best possible way – with goals. Pundits like to cite fixtures like Wigan and Stoke away as the acid test for Premier League imports, and it was delightful to watch the import Eden Hazard and Chelsea and make quick work of Wigan on opening day. Game done in 6 minutes, the Blues sat on that lead till the end.

Compared to that, Chelsea had to really sweat the Reading game. It had that most basic element of all derby matches – no matter what the venue or how big the difference between the sides on paper, it was a very difficult game to win. Chelsea weren’t helped by an uncharacteristic gaffe by Petr Cech that gave the Royals the lead, but the home side were eventually at the right end of a 4-2 score after a match that saw 90 minutes of gung ho attacking led, again, by that young Belgian.

Given how the fixture ended a few months ago, it would’ve been fair to expect visitors Newcastle to be Chelsea’s sternest test yet. Newcastle made 9 changes from their Europa League playoff and with Chelsea also having played that tough Reading game midweek, there was no question of one side being fresher than the other. What followed, however, was another masterclass from Hazard and a great performance from Fernando Torres that saw Chelsea comfortably reverse the scoreline from their previous meeting without even creating a real open chance. The match, particularly the first half, was made to look frighteningly easy.

Some thought the fee of 32 million was excessive for an unproven 21 year old, but Eden Hazard’s performances give one the impression that he’s worth all that and more. Skilful, pacy and unselfish, he is giving the Chelsea midfield the verve, speed and guile it has lacked in recent seasons. His early return of 6 assists and one goal in just three games has all his managers (people play fantasy football, yes?) delighted. He’s paying back his money’s worth, and is getting the best out of Fernando Torres. 

About him, it’s delightful to see the Spaniard in form. 3 goals in his last 4 games following a Golden Boot in the EURO, Torres is a clear example that after the rain, the sun shines. And what three goals they were - all of them had him making the most of limited chances, particularly the Newcastle goal a glory that we all thought died in 2009. Chelsea are still somewhat bare in the striker position though. Should (God forbid) something happen to Torres form-wise or fitness-wise, the Blues could be in trouble. Chelsea must spend on a reliable understudy to cover their bases.

He might not get in the opposition box all that much anymore, but Frank Lampard is quite an asset playing withdrawn behind the attacking midfield trio. His role, just like Ballack’s in Ancelotti’s first season, must not be underestimated. Lampard is in his element when picking out passes and starting attacks, and his ability to get the ball to Mata, Hazard, Ramires and Torres will dictate much of Chelsea’s attacking play. Not a bad tackler either, and probably playing the role that suits his age and the team’s system as a whole. An aside: Congratulations to him for having scored in 16 Premier League seasons straight now.

Based on what has happened so far - and many will argue that not enough has occurred for anyone to make any hasty predictions, but hey - here is some divination: Chelsea will win two trophies this season, and one of them will be the Barclays Premier League.

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