Finally, Chelsea have got their first home win of the season, in last night’s Champions League opener against Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv. Former Chelsea players Tal Ben-Haim (of which there were two, the other one a striker), and Slavisa Jokanovic the Maccabi manager, didn’t have many happy memories of their time at Stamford Bridge anyway, and certainly didn’t add to them last night.
With Pedro injured, Willian started on the wing, with Oscar returning from injury to play in the Number 10 role. Amongst others who were dropped/rested (delete as you deem applicable) after the loss at Goodison were Terry, Ivanovic, Mikel, Matic, and Costa. Baba Rahman was given his Chelsea debut, Azpilicueta returned to his natural right back position, Loic Remy started his first game of the season, but the biggest news was Ruben Loftus-Cheek starting the game, and going on to dominate it. Despite a shocking yellow card in the first minute (in the sense that in no way whatsoever was it ever a yellow card), Loftus-Cheek remained unrattled and imposed himself on the game in the way a prime Michaels Essien and Ballack would, a perfect mix of physicality in defence and creativity in attack, and was named UEFA’s Man of the Match for this. All that at just 19, makes Loftus-Cheek undoubtedly one of the best midfield prospects in the game. I really hope he starts far more games this season than he did last, and I hope he’s kept in the starting XI for the game against Arsenal, as him alongside Matic would provide steely resistance against Arsenal’s playmakers, however both Matic and Loftus-Cheek can both pick out a superb pass with ease themselves.
One of the biggest disappointments of the night, other than Willian’s injury which could potentially mean Ramires on the wing against Arsenal, was the performance of Eden Hazard. As with every game this season, it just seemed that there was a little “je ne sais quoi” missing from his performance. His penalty was atrocious; I was sat right behind the goal yesterday and from the moment it left his foot it was going over, it was woeful compared to his usual penalties. After that, this may have had an effect on his all-round play, but even since the start of the season, that killer ball, that dink-around-the-full-back and cross, that skilling-up-three-men-at-once and goal… it’s all been missing, and it’s perplexing as to why.
Additionally, whilst I’m not the biggest fan of Gary Cahill, he was absolutely superb last night, especially with the additional pressure of captaining the side for the first time. I had always thought that he needs to be the junior defender in the pairing, with a John Terry next to him to tell him where to position himself, however I was massively impressed in the manner he did just that alongside Kurt Zouma. I personally would still play a Terry-Zouma defence on Saturday against Arsenal, however after last night I wouldn’t be surprised if Cahill starts again alongside JT. Baba Rahman had a solid debut, albeit looking very raw like Zouma had on his debut, and we have seen the leaps and bounds he has come in the last season, however I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose continues to play him and mould him into the kind of left back he wants behind Eden Hazard.
Furthermore, we saw some flashes of brilliance from Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Granted, they were just flashes, and not the regular brilliance we grew accustomed to last season, but it was better than what we’ve seen so far this season. Fabregas was more lethal with his passing, but at the same time, he wasn’t playing silly passes like the one that led to Fernandinho’s third for City. Costa showed he was the player that scored 7 in his first 5 games last year, winning the second penalty that really should have led to Tel Aviv going down to 10 men, and then scoring what looked, at least from Shed End, like a Zidane-esque finish into the top corner.
Granted, it’s only Maccabi Tel Aviv. However, Arsenal lost out in Zagreb against Dinamo, and United out in Eindhoven against a PSV much weakened since winning the Eredvisie, and not dropping points in your games against the minnows of your group is extremely important to ensure you top your group and avoid Bayern, Barca and the like. In addition, and far more importantly, for a team that has looked so bereft of form and confidence, a big win like this, regardless of opposition, can only be a good thing. For those who played and played well, it’s something they can take into their next game, be it against Arsenal or Walsall or later on than that; for those who Jose dropped/rested, it’s a kick up the backside to realise there is competition for places.