Chelsea kicked off their Premier League campaign in fine fashion, with a comfortable 2-0 victory against newly promoted Hull City. Stamford Bridge was buzzing, not only for the football lesson the Blues handed Steve Bruce’s men in the opening 25 minutes, but also for the return of Jose Mourinho. Fans were once again united, and in full support of the manager and Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
First half strikes from Oscar and Frank Lampard allowed the Blues to cruise through the match, which was somewhat of a vintage Mourinho performance, barring the opening 25 minutes. But Chelsea missed a glorious chance to take the lead in the 6th minute when Allan McGregor obliterated Fernando Torres in the box. Fortunately for Hull City, McGregor made a wonderful save to deny Frank Lampard from the spot. Lampard did make up for his slight blemish, with a breathtaking 35-yard free kick that doubled Chelsea’s lead.
Mourinho stuck with the 4-2-3-1 that the London club has adopted over the past 18 months, handing Stamford Bridge debutant Kevin De Bruyne, a start in the front three with Eden Hazard and Oscar, pushing Juan Mata to the bench. But Mata’s inclusion in the side wasn’t missed, as the movement of the trident was exceptional.
In particular, Oscar being slotted into a no.10 role was interesting, considering it’s been Mata’s coveted position since Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment. Oscar, who successfully featured in this position for Brazil in the Confederations Cup, made a statement as to why Mourinho should keep the Brazilian in that role. The 21-year-old found pockets of space in the midfield to receive the ball and dragged defenders out of position, for the benefit of his teammates.
This was highlighted in his first goal, when the Brazilian dropped deep into midfield, opening up space for De Bruyne to attack – Oscar then followed the play and received an exquisite ball from the Belgian to give Mourinho’s men the lead. De Bruyne also had himself a decent outing, connecting with Hazard and Oscar, as well as finding space to exploit between the lines.
But it was Oscar’s role that has really put Mata’s place in the squad up in the air to many. Oscar is a reliable passer, and can also drop deep to form a midfield three, which is hard to find in many no.10’s in modern day football – it’s key to highlight that Mata’s defensive work in that role is non-existent. In a time where the deep-lying playmaker is becoming a key arsenal in a team’s attack, it’s beneficial to have a versatile no.10 that can fulfill his offensive duties, but also be able to close down a deep-lying playmaker or form a midfield three to sustain control of the match.
Now this wouldn’t necessarily drop Mata to the bench, it’s hard to see the club’s and arguably the league’s best player have a bit part role, but it’s likely that he’ll operate on the flank – drifting centrally and allowing fullbacks to get forward. But Mourinho’s depth in attacking players is unbelievable, as he was able to call upon Romelu Lukaku, Andre Schurrle and Marco Van Ginkel as substitutes.
It was unapparent as to whether Chelsea was shutting up shop or virtually fatigued from midweek international fixtures, but the fluidity and energy in their attack severely declined in the second half. But it’s evident that Mourinho has implemented defensive organization, as every player looked determined to get back into their shape when they conceded possession. Chelsea had numbers behind the ball and Bruce’s men rarely looked like threatening in the final third, besides Ahmed Elmohamady’s occasional runs from right back.
In the 59th minute, Bruce introduced two of his summer signings from Tottenham in Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, and the duo instantly had an impact on the match. They began to dictate the tempo, and were slowly building plays for the hosts, but their lack of conviction in the final third, led to their downfall – frankly Hull City’s best chance came in the 72nd minute when Curtis Davies met Elmohamady’s cross and forced Petr Cech into an awkward save.
Mourinho also decided to field Ramires and Lampard in the double pivot – a duo that has played together several times last season, but has often struggled. In the first half, the duo fared well, based on the fact that Bruce instructed his man to sit deep and stay compact – but as the match wore on, they were simply overrun in midfield.
It’s worrying considering the inferior opposition and the fact that it was a home match, but it’s a combination that shouldn’t be used in the near future. For all the offensive threat they pose, they’re unable to provide quality defensive cover for the back four, often leaving them exposed on the break, and Chelsea is unable to get the best out of Ramires. Along with a striker, Chelsea is in desperate need of a midfielder to play in that double pivot, as Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien and Van Ginkel, might not be the answer to the problems they face.
“In the second half when I saw it going in another direction I was a bit frustrated because I wanted more, but after five or 10 minutes I was thinking that we didn’t because we couldn’t, you can’t play that way for 90 minutes,” Mourinho said.
“When the creativity disappeared we lost the danger in our game. I tried to make a couple of changes but at that time the game was bad, we sat back but our defensive block was very comfortable. The second half wasn’t comparable to the first half but the first half was fantastic,” he added.
Chelsea will face sterner tasks in the near future, and there’s still a lot of concern as to whether they’ll purchase a striker before the window closes, but Mourinho seems determined to add firepower upfront.
“We will try until the last day to add a new player to the squad, a striker, but at this moment every striker has a club and belongs to somebody. I don’t think it’s ethical for me to name players that belong to other clubs,” Mourinho said.
“If we have to make a bid we will do it in an official way, we don’t speak to players, we speak to clubs. We will talk to the club in the correct manner and we will try that until the last day of the window,” he said.
In hindsight, Chelsea looks to be heading in the right direction – the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge is once again positive, and they now have the depth to compete on all fronts – but will they rise to the occasion?