It may not be the most speculative prediction to cast Chelsea in the role of title favourites, but this time, there is genuine credibility in any claims made by the club’s supporters: Jose Mourinho, 12 months after returning to Stamford Bridge, has fashioned a team that has the necessary qualities to win the Premier Division again.
On the evidence of the first two games of the campaign, Chelsea have spent well, have invested wisely. True, their opening victories have been against the traditional cannon fodder of newly-promoted teams, but they have shrugged both Burnley and Leicester City aside with all the confidence of long-distance runners who know the toughest challenge is yet to come. Mourinho’s team is clicking into gear nicely.
Leicester City proved to be stubborn opponents for more than an hour. They crowded Chelsea’s key men – Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa – and also broke with pace to test the home defence. In fact, if Thibaud Courtois had not been at his most alert, they may have taken the lead long before Chelsea got a grip on the game.
While Fabregas, so influential and outstanding at Burnley in the opening game, was kept quiet, Nemanja Matic demonstrated why he may be one of the most pivotal figures in the Chelsea class of 2014. The former Benfica man, the type of player Chelsea lacked over the past two or three years, was tipped to be one of the men to watch by more than one national newspaper, and it’s easy to see why. He wins the ball for his team-mates, uses it intelligently and makes himself a nuisance with the opposition.
Fabregas may get the plaudits for his skill and vision – as witnessed at Burnley – but Matic can be as important to Chelsea as the now out-of-favour Di Maria was for Real Madrid.
Chelsea were held to 0-0 in the first half, but they ran the show in the second period, but not before the Leicester flame had been extinguished. Courtois had to pull off a couple more saves to keep the visitors quiet, notably when he blocked David Nugent in full flight.
But by this time, Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel was doing his best to earn a clean sheet bonus. His woodwork had come to the rescue when Oscar’s low shot looked net-bound and he twice denied Branislav Ivanovic with acrobatic saves. It was starting to look like a frustrating afternoon for Chelsea.
But in the 62nd minute, Costa showed why the club had pursued him so vigorously during the summer, despite his poor showing in the World Cup. Ivanovic’s cross arrived awkwardly in the six-yard box and many players might have failed to get their shot in, but Costa is a “win ugly” type of guy and he wasted no time in shooting home. That makes it two in two for the former Atletico Madrid striker – a stark contrast to the start made by the last big money striker to arrive at Chelsea, Fernando Torres.
Costa is something of a rarity these days, an old fashioned goal-poacher who finds a way to score no matter what. He’s the type of player Chelsea have lacked for a long time, largely because there are just so few of his kind around at the top level. While Torres relied on a certain type of through ball to capitalise on his ability to run into dangerous areas, Costa is, essentially, a penalty area player – he can finish off the good work started by players like Oscar and Eden Hazard.
It was Hazard who scored the second goal in the 77th minute, driving low underneath Schmeichel’s body. Perhaps he could have stopped it, but he was being peppered with shots and headers at this stage of the contest.
Leicester didn’t have enough in their armoury to trouble Chelsea after that, and that may become a familiar story this season. Mourinho’s men will have tougher games to come, but they are looking more accomplished than they have at any time since 2010 when Carlo Ancelotti squeezed a “double” out of an ageing team. Ultimately, their battles with Manchester City will be the defining fixtures of the 2014-15 season.
But not everything is perfect in London SW6….
Stamford Bridge still has some dark corners. The West Stand, back row, entrance 8, offers the most remote experience. There, among the cobwebs, the like of which you will only find in an Indiana Jones movie, and the bird droppings, the public address system doesn’t reach you – you can just hear a faint mumbling from somewhere. Supporters stand and smoke and are untouched by the rest of the ground. We were like the ugly kids kept in the attic, away from public view. It’s quite a strange experience: Row 23, the forgotten row. With Chelsea’s vast resources, a decent PA system would seem to be a reasonable request at £63 a ticket. And was that John Spencer being paraded around, or mmommm burnser?