Chelsea Show Their Maturity in Win


Winning on a rainy Monday in Stoke: this is, for some reason, the hallmark, the sign, of a champion in English football. That’s exactly what Chelsea did yesterday, driving away from the Britannia with a 2-0 win, and three crucial points to the title race.

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Three weeks ago, Chelsea was up 7 points on Manchester City. Going into Monday, the two Blue squads were tied, with Chelsea ahead by just a goal in goal difference, and with a game in hand. City were looking resurgent, following a 3-0 win over Palace on the weekend, without any strikers in the lineup. Chelsea was looking battered, after making two trips to the northeast that saw them drop 2 and 3 points against Sunderland and Newcastle respectively.

Stoke also presented the physical kind of game that Sunderland used to rattle Diego Costa. Mourinho’s fear of this was reflected in his starting lineup, where he left out Oscar, instead moving Cesc Fabergas into the attacking midfield position, and slotting John Obi Mikel into defensive midfield.

This proved to be a brilliant move. It allowed Chelsea to retain 5 defenders at any given time, and most of the game, both Mikel and Nemanja Matic stayed back, providing a screen for Chelsea’s back four. They both also covered for Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta as they made runs forward, sliding into the fullback slots, and not leaving Chelsea open.

Fabergas played well up front, helping turn defensive stands into quick counter attacks. He easily outclassed Geoff Cameron and Steven N’Zonzi in defensive midfield, and put Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Willian through on several occasions.

Cesc Fabergas put in another fine performance against Stoke, assisting Chelsea’s first and scoring their second.

Costa had two beautiful chances, failing to capitalize on both. Once, in the 31st minute, Fabergas played Costa through, from midfield. Costa beat the offside trap, and had beaten Asmir Begovic, when the ball sailed just inches wide of the post. Then, in the 84th minute, he pulled off the back of the defense, with Andre Schurrle feeding him the ball. Begovic saved the shot, and Schurrle looked a little angry that his work was fruitless.

But the biggest point of the game was its physicality. Against Sunderland and Newcastle, Chelsea were seemingly thrown off by the intensity of the opponents. Not this time; even after Phil Bardsley tackled Hazard a little too strongly, maybe deserving a red card, the Blues kept their heads, and didn’t get anyone sent off.

This is crucial for several reasons: for one, the next two weeks is a crucial stretch, with the Blues hosting high flying West Ham, before visiting Southampton and Tottenham. This all before the New Year. Chelsea don’t need anyone missing games for yellow card accumulation or a red card, especially with City pulling up on their tails.

Secondly, it also showed that Chelsea, and Costa in particular, have matured. Costa drew much ire from fans and the media for his poor, weak performance against Sunderland, where John O’Shea and Wes Brown threw Costa off his game with physicality. Indeed, the Spainard should have been sent off for kicking out at O’Shea.

Diego Costa didn’t score against Stoke, but still performed well, fighting off Ryan Shawcross and Marc Muniesa.

This game offered Costa plenty of opportunities to repeat that performance. But instead, he showed remarkable poise, not doing anything questionable. That’s not to say that he wasn’t his familiar self: indeed, he still got in people’s faces, and often tangled with defenders. But his response, often conciliatory, showed that he was not looking for fights, rather just trying to play his game.

He did play his game, not getting pushed around. Though he missed the two above chances, he will soon be putting the ball into the back of net as usual, and this performance showed that he won’t be easily stopped.

Chelsea have retained their 3 point lead on City, all the more important as the toughest stretch of the season yet comes into play.