As David Marshall was left helpless by Chelsea’s points-clinching third goal, majestically struck by the substitute Oscar, the home support rose as one – and among them was a dapper 50-year-old once dubbed an “enemy of football”.
Yes, Jose Mourinho was in trouble again, banished to the stands – he eventually chose a vacant seat in the fifth row, directly behind the Chelsea dugout – for troubling the referee, Anthony Taylor, and fourth official Trevor Kettle on questions of time-wasting. But it was how his team extricated themselves from difficulty that carried more significance, even if this, too, involved controversy.
They, nevertheless, moved above Liverpool on goal difference and stayed nicely tucked behind the Premier League leaders, Arsenal, by coming from behind to beat Cardiff, Samuel Eto’o scoring his first for the club and Eden Hazard, challenged only by Oscar’s cameo for man-of-the-match honours, collecting a double.
It was a clinical, efficient and ultimately handsome prelude to the visit of Manchester City to Stamford Bridge on Sunday (after a trip to meet Schalke in the Champions’ League). But Mourinho declined to talk about it, preferring a League fine. He might also have been relieved not to face questions about David Luiz’s role in the Cardiff goal.
Malky Mackay was less reticent, powerfully arguing that Taylor had erred in allowing the equaliser. The Cardiff manager said he had spoken to the officials, who had told him they believed Marshall had dropped rather than bounced the ball before having it flicked away from him by Eto’o.
According to the law, a bounced ball is under the control of the goalkeeper and therefore Eto’o committed a foul, Mackay continued. “The explanation leaves us really disappointed.” Asked if the incident had been crucial, he replied: “It certainly was at that point.”
Overall, the score was indeed unkind to a solid Cardiff. They lived in real hope for a time thanks to Luiz. Almost as soon as you come to the conclusion that the Brazilian might be maturing into the high-quality defender his talent renders feasible, he seems to do something stupid. And so it came once more to pass.
The Chelsea defender, John Terry, failed to deal with a long, high ball. That did not matter because it was deflected to Ramires, 25 yards out and under little pressure. Ramires chose to pass back towards Luiz, who ran past the ball, mane tossing, in what can only have been an elaborate attempt at a dummy.
Had Petr Cech called for it? The goalkeeper’s body-language suggested otherwise and he was late to the ball as Jordon Mutch, who had gambled on Luiz’s folly, dashed forward to dink it into the net.
Cardiff’s reaction did involve much wasting of time. Chelsea, meanwhile, moved the ball as quickly as possible and constantly switched attacking midfielders. With Oscar omitted from the starting line-up, Juan Mata might have been disappointed to find Willian in the No. 10 role and himself on the right. But this proved temporary.
When Chelsea equalised, Mata had moved into the central role. Hazard remained generally on the left and it was from there that he got the goal. Another bizarre one, it was.
Marshall had collected the ball and was bouncing it when Eto’o stole in. Hazard took a couple of steps and squared to Eto’o, who tried to go round Gary Medel before scoring but was brought down by the Chilean. The referee held his whistle while Hazard stroked the ball into an unguarded net.
Luiz was yellow-carded after getting too tight on Aron Gunnarsson as Cardiff tried to break out. But generally the tide continued to wash over the visitors, who were broken almost as soon as Oscar had taken over from Mata.
First the fresh arrival fed Hazard, who in turn played the ball through to Eto’o, and now the veteran rolled back the years.
Said to have lacked sharpness since his arrival from Anzhi Makhachkala, he skipped into space, danced round the challenge of Steven Caulker and shot low past Marshall before wildly celebrating at the Matthew Harding end.
Mourinho’s last act was to replace Eto’o with the defender Cesar Azpilicueta. A minute later, according to assistant coach Steve Holland, he encountered “a huge frustration” with the referee’s request to Bransilav Ivanovic to hurry with a throw – making liberal reference to Cardiff’s earlier delays – and was despatched to the stands.
He is unlikely to face serious disciplinary action – certainly no repeat of the Uefa ban that caused him once to exert remote control over a Champions’ League tie with Bayern Munich.
Anyway, the players seemed to fare well enough without Mourinho for the final quarter of the match yesterday, Oscar emphasising Chelsea’s superiority with that glorious dipper from just outside the penalty area and Hazard cutting in from the left to drive under Marshall.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic , Luiz, Terry, Bertrand (Torres, 63); Ramires, Lampard; Mata (Oscar, 58), Willian, Hazard; Eto’o (Azpilicueta, 68).
Cardiff City (4-1-4-1): Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, Taylor; Medel (Kim, 55); Cowie, Mutch, Gunnarsson (Gestede, 80), Whittingham, Odemwingie (Campbell, 53).
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the match: Eden Hazard
Match rating: 7/10
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