Chelsea’ s magnificent 1-0 win at the Etihad last night really cannot be understated. To a man, the Blues were exceptional, and under the tactical genius of Jose Mourinho, Chelsea arguably played their best 90 minutes since the early days of Carlo Ancelotti in 2010.
Far from a purely defensive performance, as was predicted, the Blues consistently ran at the shaky City back-line, cutting deep lines across the pitch, and ensured that the best attacking team in the country were taught a lesson in forward play.
The Blues midfield provided both the catalyst for Chelsea’s adventurous attacking play, as well as assuring that their defenders were afforded the best protection from City’s marauding attackers.
Chelsea contained City, and lashed out via the left-foot of Branislav Ivanovic, the man of concrete, to secure a season-altering result that will have affected the hierarchy of the Premier League in its entirety.
The enormity of the fact was casually played down by the ever-enigmatic Jose Mourinho after the match.
Asked whether Chelsea could become Premier League champions, Mourinho said: “I don’t agree. We lost points at home against West Brom, against West Ham, we lost at Stoke, we lost at Newcastle. We are a team in evolution but this is the kind of performance that helps the team to grow up a lot, tactically, mentally, I think it was fantastic.”
“The next pre-season, me and my players will say openly that we are mature, solid from day one and are candidates for the league. This season is about evolution.”
The Portuguese spoke of evolution and growth, and this was evident in the Blues midfield, as the new-look trio of Nemanja Matic, Ramires and David Luiz effortlessly gelled in their first full match together.
— Mario Melchiot (@MarioMelchiot) February 3, 2014
Matic in particular had a superb game in what was his full-debut since his return to Stamford Bridge last month.
The Serbian matched the imperious Yaya Toure for power and pace, while exuding a natural creativity that was worryingly seen only in the aging Frank Lampard this season for the Blues.
Cracking the post with a 30 yard pile-driver in the second half, the £21m January signing had a team-high pass completion rate of 85%, while he also won 75% of his aerial duels. His presence also gave David Luiz that extra cover so as to charge around the pitch, engaging in play through his unique, maverick style.
Luiz’ inclusion in midfield is not unusual, as the 26-year-old has proven on several occasions that he has the potential to be permanently converted to the role, but his penchant for chaos has drawn criticism from pundits, with his rampant demeanor on the pitch not unlike an overexcited Hungarian Komondor dog (as you can see here).
But while Luiz’ stats are not as consistent as some of the best midfielders in the game, his warrior-like instincts, and ability to almost ignore the potential dangers of a contact sport make him a wholly valuable commodity, alongside a more level-headed operator such as Matic.
The Brazilian’s passing range is quite exquisite, made all the more exceptional by the fact that he is, in actuality, a defender. It is just this that has attracted the interest of Barcelona, with the Spaniards linked with a move for Luiz on many occasions.
Ramires, who flitted endlessly between midfield and attack, is very much a ‘Mourinho-type’ player. Seemingly lung-less, the intensity of the Brazilian’s play never let up. While not possessing of a really efficient passing range, his work-rate and box-to-box running ensures that he is a firm starter for the Blues.
It was through the collective efforts of this new-look Chelsea midfield that won the day for the Blues, and while Mourinho may continue to preach about the merits of ‘watering his pony’ or something, the immediate cohesion of Matic, Luiz and Ramires may not only have ousted the most potent team in England, but also have provided the platform on which this team could achieve something quite extraordinary.
What do you think? Can Chelsea win the league? What did you think of the Blues midfield yesterday? Let me know in the comments below…