Chelsea vs Leicester City match report: Diego Costa and Eden Hazard come to the rescue after stubborn Foxes threatened to cause a shock
Chelsea 2 Leicester City 0
Saturday 23 August 2014
Cuddly Chelsea? Hold that thought. Let’s not prepare, prematurely, for the culture shock of football’s arch-pragmatists being transformed into poets. The equivalent of John Terry reinventing himself as a sandal-wearing, muesli-knitting, bleeding heart liberal is some way off.
Idealists dared to dream after Burnley were eviscerated on the opening weekend by the speed, movement and creativity of a team which has been strengthened significantly and strategically for the Second Coming’s second season.
This was a win more in the traditional Jose Mourinho mould, a reward for patience and remorselessness after a frustrating first hour against a well-organised, defiantly durable, newly promoted side.
There is still Something of the Night about Mourinho. He described ever-decreasing circles in his technical area, and pirouetted angrily when Dean Hammond, Leicester’s principal irritant, scythed down André Schürrle before the breakthrough came. He admitted he had to “be a little bit emotional” at half-time.
With him, and to a significant degree Louis van Gaal, the team will never be the star. Collective reputation is secondary to the individuality of his personality. It remains easy to imagine him stealing through fog-shrouded streets, trailing a silky black cape and an air of mystery, but Chelsea have pretensions to be something other than the glee club of an Evil Empire.
They handed out free foam hands to home fans, and peddled T-shirts which depicted Mourinho, somewhat improbably, as The Happy One. A brass band in the forecourt massacred Coldplay’s greatest hits, which may be lift music in the seventh circle of Hell, but it provided a welcome, of sorts.
Mourinho bizarrely used the weather as an excuse for Chelsea’s self-confessed “laziness” in the first half, and stretched credulity still further by suggesting that Fernando Torres has a viable role as one of three regularly rotated strikers.
Despite perceptions that the Spaniard is available for the price of a deep-crust pizza and a bag of sticky toffees, Mourinho insisted his absence from the match day squad was not a signal he is about to join Ashley Cole at Roma, Serie A’s answer to the Sunnyside Senior Citizens’ retreat.
Mourinho’s clinical marginalisation of Petr Cech, after a decade’s service, in favour of Thibaut Courtois, gives him another option since he needs to shed a foreign player from his squad before 1 September to meet Premier League regulations.
There is no-one more isolated than yesterday’s man. Cech, an incongruous figure in his superfluous skull cap, was forced to sit and listen to Stamford Bridge echoing with a chant of “Thibaut” following his replacement’s pivotal one-on-one save from David Nugent.
New heroes are emerging, as old heroes return. It took Torres 19 Premier League matches to accumulate two goals last season. Diego Costa has required only two games to do so. He will not disappear into football’s Bermuda Triangle, the void into which Chelsea forwards of recent vintage have vanished.
When Branislav Ivanovic, freed by Oscar’s subtle pass, squared the ball to the naturalised Spaniard in the 63rd minute Costa’s first touch was poor; he scored with his second. They might as well save time now, and arrange his fitting for the Premier League’s golden boot.
Cesc Fabregas, a fellow refugee from La Liga, is filling the spiritual vacuum left by fabled Frank. He has Lampard’s taut, slightly hunched shoulders as he demands the ball and dictates the tempo of attacks. Though initially wasteful in possession, he still set up Chelsea’s second.
Demand that Eden Hazard tracks back, and he responds with the disdain of a duchess asked to scrub the scullery floor. Give him an inviting pass and a tiring full back and he is a king among men. Leicester’s fate was sealed when he cut in from the left past Ritchie De Laet, and scored with a right foot shot under the outstanding Kasper Schmeichel, following a slight deflection off the lunging Wes Morgan.
So can Chelsea win the title? Mourinho, conscious of the magnitude of the opportunity squandered when they were top of the League with nine matches remaining last season, insisted “we have a lot of work to do”. He was hardly likely to say anything else.
At least Leicester didn’t join their unlikely list of conquerors in the spring, which included Aston Villa, Sunderland and Crystal Palace. The consequences of a lack of drive and intensity, reflected by a first half performance which had the fluidity of slow-setting cement, are obvious.
Successful clubs feed off the men tal energy created by a yearning for players of emotional stature, and the totemic Didier Drogba will be an important factor as the season wears on. He is not a natural starter these days, but the primal scream of hope and exultation which greeted his arrival with 10 minutes left suggests the feelgood factor is back at the Bridge.
Even Roman Abramovich joined in the standing ovation from his executive eyrie. When an Oligarch is on his feet, applauding with arms extended over his head despite the embarrassment of sweaty armpits, anything is possible.
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