The Blue Test
A suggestion was made on social networking at some point yesterday that should the rumour of Radamel Falcao’s transfer to Chelsea come to fruition, he would become the best ever Premier League player and make the Blues the best side seen since the re-formatting of the League in 1992.
Such talk is as debatable as it is hypothetical but it did at least shine a spotlight on events on the pitch at Stamford Bridge. After Saturday’s fairly comfortable victory at White Hart Lane (in the end, at least) it is still probably fair to question how much Chelsea have been challenged; the absence of Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele had a profound effect on the hosts and made life much easier for Roberto Di Matteo’s men.
Nonetheless, as the saying goes, you can only beat what’s in front of you – Chelsea had to recover from a goal deficit in the second half, and they did so in considerable style, ticking off one of their toughest fixtures before heading into next weeks huge showdown with Manchester United.
The Blues are in rude health at the moment; blossoming rather than being handicapped by John Terry’s suspension (as Gary Cahill’s expertly taken shot proved). While it’s fair to say that their defence is not as miserly as it was back in the day of Jose Mourinho, it’s equally fair to say that this Chelsea plays with more flair and more industry – the triumvirate of Eden Hazard, Oscar and particularly Juan Mata is a force that the rest of the Premier League needs to find a way to stop.
That’s not to say that Chelsea have a monopoly on stylish schemers, yet there can be no denying that results – and performances, regardless of the standard of opposition – have suggested the Blues have hit the ground running, at least moreso than their main title rivals.
Mata was the difference against Tottenham, buzzing around and scoring both the equaliser and what turned out to be the decider – having got to grips with the English game, he is now bossing big games and is capably assisted by the unpredictability of the new signings. Hazard’s exceptional assist for the winner on Saturday was a simply unstoppable moment of beauty; if such a moment is a sign of things to come, then times are ominous for the Manchester clubs.
Spurs boss Andres Villas-Boas called Chelsea’s three playmakers “tremendous” and likened his former club’s start to the season to Manchester City’s last year. Both City and United came back from disadvantages too at the weekend, of course, with the Champions late turnaround courtesy of Edin Dzeko almost inevitable and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side only momentarily troubled by Stoke.
Yet despite the credit both sides deserved (and how well taken goals from both sides were) neither comebacks were taken with the panache and style of Chelsea – with City trying to figure out how to build on last season’s success, and United still wondering how to knit a perfectly cohesive front six, Chelsea’s honeymoon period has lifted them into a position which is comfortable, and come next Sunday evening at 6pm, could be commanding.
Tottenham are no mugs. Neither, for that matter are Arsenal, and Chelsea have played games at the home grounds of both and won with a degree of comfort. Their biggest test in the league so far will undoubtedly come next week when they welcome United to Stamford Bridge – the chance to open up a 7 point gap on Ferguson’s side after just 9 games will inevitably provoke memories of their runaway starts of
2004/2005 and 2005/2006 but the United manager will look to continental difficulties for Di Matteo’s charges against Atletico in the Super Cup (and, incidentally, Falcao) and also Juventus, with their recent good performance in West London in the Champions League, for inspiration and belief that the current Chelsea side is not as unstoppable as those from 6 or 7 years ago.
Ferguson might, too, suggest that Chelsea had an advantage by facing Arsenal when Wenger’s team are going through their annual early season transition, and also point out the combined presence of Dembele and Bale was as defining in its absence in defeat for Spurs on Saturday as it was in victory at Old Trafford for Villas-Boas’s side a few short weeks ago.
Next Sunday’s fixture presents an opportunity to find out so much about the progression of both Chelsea and United – it’s more than a little premature to speak about the current European Champions as the best the Premier League has ever seen, but victory against United will go a long way to silencing any lingering doubts that still remain about whether their position on top is a false one or a true reflection of their quality.by: Wayne Barton, October 22, 2012