Chelsea remain unbeaten, despite themselves, and the Premier League title is developing into an unequal contest. Yet invincibility is an illusion as this Indian summer stretches into November. The history books are safe for a while yet.
An insubstantial win over well-organised but limited opposition in a bloodless London derby is no real form guide. Infinitely tougher tests must be passed if Jose Mourinho’s latest team are to emulate Arsenal’s new model army of a decade ago, and go through a season without a League defeat.
They have been denied a 100 per cent record after 10 matches only by late goals from Manchester City and United. There’s a sense of smugness in the crowd at Stamford Bridge, more than a hint of empire, about to be reclaimed.
Chelsea are four points clear of Southampton, but more pertinently have a nine-point lead over City and Arsenal. They are 12 ahead of Liverpool and 13 better than United. Complacency would seem their natural enemy, since they have barely been required to break sweat.
Other members of the lavishly-funded, over-hyped elite have been prey to carelessness and unexpected calamity created by poorly managed change. It might have been only QPR’s second loss in six league matches against Chelsea, but Mourinho was revealingly reluctant to celebrate. He complained tartly about the timidity of the home supporters and bemoaned his side’s intermittent intensity. Ritual reassurance about the importance of scruffy wins, was given short shrift.
“My team did not play as well as I expected,” he stressed. “We had periods of good football but no consistency. It was fantastic work by Harry to organise his team defensively, but with our quality I would expect us to be stronger.”
Chelsea took a 32nd minute lead with a memorable fusion of timing and technique. Diego Costa won the ball, held it up for the umpteenth time, and slipped it into path of Cesc Fabregas. He fed Oscar, who struck a first time shot with the outside of his right foot, which curled into the far corner. Cue collective ecstasy which, strangely, was not shared by Mourinho, who spent a full minute chuntering to himself. He didn’t get his hands out of his pockets and looked mortally offended. Takes all sorts, I suppose.
Oscar was once deemed lightweight. Now he marries an admirable work ethic with a sublime touch. He has scored three goals and set up two more in his last six matches. He is a symbol of the evolutionary cycle the Chelsea manager has set in train.
The movement is intelligent and the pressure on the ball is relentless. Nemanja Matic is the fulcrum, a source of clever interceptions and crisp tackling. And though Costa didn’t score and is hardly fully fit he is certainly firing. He is a nightmare to play against.
Mourinho judged him harshly, insisting: “He didn’t have a very good performance. With muscular injuries it is not just your body but your brain. You are afraid of a reaction.”
A truce with his international manager, Vicente Del Bosque, would help but is far from likely. He will be in next week’s Spain squad for the Euro 2016 qualifier against Belarus, and the high-profile friendly against world champions Germany.
Chelsea were punished for luxuriating in their superiority in the 62nd minute. Thibaut Courtois punched away an Eduardo Vargas cross, and though Leroy Fer scuffed his shot, it was diverted in by Charlie Austin’s instinctive backflick. He has 24 league goals for QPR since the start of last season, 18 more than anyone else. Eden Hazard slyly drew a decisive foul from Vargas with 15 minutesleft. Harry Redknapp complained the expertly-taken penalty was “harsh” but the Chilean had no need to commit himself.
Mourinho, a picture of misery, was already looking ahead, to more profound afternoons.
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis; Fabregas, Matic; Willian (Drogba, 64), Oscar, Hazard (Ramires, 93); Costa (Schürrle, 78).
QPR: (4-4-2) Green; Isla, Dunne, Caulker, Yun; Hoilett (Zamora, 60), Henry, Sandro, Fer (Traore, 84); Vargas Austin.
Referee: Mike Jones.
Man of the match: Oscar (Chelsea)
Match rating: 6/10
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