We may have lost at the Britannia, and been saved by a Willian free kick once again at home to Dynamo Kiev, but there are signs of improvement, and positives can be taken. It’s a cliché that’s often trotted out for teams near the bottom of the table battling against relegation; however considering that we’re 16th after 12 games, it’s probably applicable. When looking at the games we’ve played since the last international break (and the last article I wrote with a song title reference), the performances have been slightly less dire, less infuriatingly poor.
Indeed, during the first half of the League game against Stoke, I tweeted that going forward, we looked like the same team we were last season. The only problem was that we couldn’t convert that into a goal, a lead, and points. With Mourinho’s famed pragmatism, I’m usually one to prioritise points over performance, but when in this situation, with performances (both team and individual) earlier this season, if we’re going to lose, I’d rather we played well; it’s something we can take into the next game and build up some form, something we’re desperate for.
Game on game, we’ve looked better. The Villa game, we looked comfortable and dominant; granted Villa have been astoundingly poor this season and it cost Tim Sherwood his job, but the three points were extremely welcome, as was a decent performance on the back of the shockingly atrocious performance at home to Southampton before the October international break. The point out in Ukraine against Dynamo Kiev was a well earnt one, and very easily could have been three, were it not for Hazard hitting the woodwork and Fabregas not getting a rather clear penalty. However, more clichés about long journeys and difficult places to go were applicable here, and it was an important point when looking at the context of that Champions League group.
West Ham away was astoundingly frustrating. On Matic, both were probably yellows, and both probably needless too, however the surrounding of the referee by West Ham’s players, which made Jon Moss bottle the decision which he initially wasn’t going to make (one referee who is actually “weak and naïve,” to quote Jose via Wenger), and then the media entirely overlooking it and concentrating on the Chelsea reaction, even when The FA fined both clubs for failure to control their players… that really got on my nerves, especially as I was at the game and watching the laughable nature of Moss booking half our team for having a moan and doing nothing about him being surrounded by those in claret and blue. After that, we couldn’t break through their defence; or rather, we weren’t playing the balls into Costa fast enough. He continues to make the runs of last season, but our midfielders aren’t playing the balls into him, and of course he’s getting frustrated, I am too just watching it.
The Stoke game in the League Cup was similar to what I said earlier: a good performance but an inability to transform it into goals (until Remy saved us right at the death) and a win (Hazard’s penalty was woeful). However, it’s only the League Cup, and for a big side like Chelsea, unless you win it, nobody really cares about it.
The loss at home to Liverpool was galling. Our early goal and pressure was great, then we started to sit back more and more, which with our defensive abilities this season, is always something quite dangerous; it takes switching off for one second to let in the better teams, as Liverpool under Klopp now are. The fact that the second we did switch off was 30 seconds over the amount of added time due to be played is annoying (I have no idea where the referee found those 30 seconds, as there was no advantage to play, nor timewasting), yet it’s also irrelevant: a Chelsea side under Mourinho and led by John Terry should know much much better than that. After that, Liverpool had won the momentum, we had lost it; their heads up, ours down going into the dressing room. The game was effectively lost from there. It shouldn’t have been; good Chelsea sides of the past had resilience as one of their most defining qualities (just look at the side that won in Munich). But there was absolutely none that day.
Against Kiev at home in the Champions League after that game, though, it showed. We impressed far more in this game, and while you can say “it’s only Kiev,” this is a decent side with good players that are being chased by some of the biggest names in European football. After Dragovic’s equaliser to cancel out his own goal, we didn’t give up and give in like we had on the weekend. We got up, dusted ourselves off, and barraged that goal at the Matthew Harding end. It could’ve easily been 3 or 4 in that last ten minutes. In the end, it turned out to be saved by the Willian yet again, with yet another superb free kick, but it was the mentality our players had that gave me hope for the near future.
And now back to that Stoke away game in the League before the international break. Pedro, Hazard and Willian’s link up play was outstanding, and they got very close to breaking the deadlock on a fair few occasions. Hazard had his best game of the season so far, Pedro looked the same player he did at The Hawthorns, and Willian was just as good as he has been all season. Loic Remy was ridiculously unlucky after having chosen to be honest and try to equalise, rather than take a penalty and probable red card for Butland. Having leaped over the keeper’s outstretched legs, to lose your footing because of the turf is stupendously unlucky, and sort of sums up this entire season in one fell swoop. It’s not the first time that dodgy slippery grass has cost Chelsea, but at least this occasion wasn’t as costly as the most memorable occasion…
In summary, there are positives that suggest after the international break, we can turn this around. Granted, I said the exact same at the last international break, but I’m much surer of it this time. Norwich at home on Saturday should really be 3 points, especially seeing as even Newcastle managed to put 6 past them. Maccabi away in Tel Aviv should be another 3 points, then Spurs away, which will be a very tough ask with the great form they’re in and the terrible form we’ve been in. After that, it’s a string of games that we really should be winning until the end of December, perhaps barring Porto at home (which is a must win to go through top of our CL group), Leicester away (who knows when Jamie Vardy will stop scoring) and then Man United at Old Trafford to finish 2015. Nobody knows what the future holds, but it’s slightly safer for Chelsea fans to be more optimistic in the lead up to the New Year.