As Frank Lampard closed in on the great Bobby Tambling’s all-time Chelsea record of 202 goals, he only represented a dying breed in English football. Gone are the days when a no.8 midfielder is only assigned to perform box-to-box duties, make gritty tackles, distribute the ball evenly and make occasional bursts into the penalty area. The modern midfielder is slowly moulding into the shape of a certain Belgian. Super Frankie scored his 200th Chelsea goal, will be awarded the status of a legend, but was overshadowed by a phenomenal Eden Hazard display.
Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are fluidity personified. The tactical jargon might set Chelsea out as a 4-2-3-1, but against the Hammers, the midfield trio was anything but rigid in its positioning. Interchanging short passes, moving forward with exceptional speed, quick one-touch football creating chance after chance - watching the first half was like experiencing ‘frantic joy’.
Eden Hazard is smooth as silk. The Belgian playmaker literally flows like the wind when in possession, easing past defenders, making it look like he hasn’t spent a drop of sweat in the process. His extraordinarily outstanding balance on the ball combined with the ferocious finishing makes him worth the €32 million that Roman Abramovich paid Lille.
Against West Ham, Mata, Hazard and Victor Moses interchanged positions rapidly and created numerous scoring opportunities. Ramires performed his defensive duties well as he covered for the attack minded Lampard. January signing Demba Ba had three one-on-one chances in the first half, but lacked the composure to finish on all three occasions.
|A 'Hazard'ous display from Chelsea's midfield unravelled West Ham|
Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole bombarded down the flanks with the latter almost always noticeable at the edge of the Hammers’ box. You could see Rafael Benitez’s extremely aggressive approach to break down the opposition, focusing on penetrating quickly, so as to disallow West Ham from getting numbers behind the ball.
Jussi Jääskeläinen had a great game between the posts, reducing the deficit to just 2 goals rather than a humiliating 5 or 6. The Finland goalkeeper has faced Chelsea 21 times in his career, and has never managed to keep a clean sheet! On 30th April 2005 it was Jussi Jääskeläinen (then playing for Bolton), past whom Lampard drilled 2 goals to seal Chelsea’s first ever Premier League title.
This was the 53rd game Chelsea played this campaign and for both Mata and Hazard, it was a 50th appearance in a Chelsea shirt for the season. They are easily the most gifted and skilled players currently in the squad and deserve to play every match.
Over exhaustion rather than overreliance, is what Benitez must look into while rotating his players. The Blues had exactly the same number of total shots on goal as they had against West Brom in their previous Premier League fixture – 24. But they had a better passing percentage of 80% in the opposition half compared to the Baggies game where they were 75% efficient. Benitez can be happy with the progress Chelsea are making.
|Spirited performences lately see Chelsea in 3rd place with a game in hand over Tottenham|
John Terry was once again benched at the start of the game (remember, he has made only 1 Premier League start under Benitez), but that didn’t stop him from irritating the Hammers’ fans as he cheekily warmed up right in front of the away supporters, stretching and bending with his admirable backside facing the away stand.
Chelsea climbs back into third place, above Tottenham, with a game in hand and the satisfaction of a psychological advantage during the International break. A couple of weeks back, when Spurs beat Arsenal in a thrilling London derby at White Hart Lane, manager Andre Villas-Boas was quoted using his unusual football terminology - "The difference this year is that we are on an upward spiral in terms of confidence whereas Arsenal are in a negative spiral and once you get into that negative spiral it's difficult to get out of it.”
Having lost 3-2 away to Liverpool and a less-than-impressive 1-0 loss at home to Fulham, the ‘Bale media storm’ that caught everybody’s attention has slowly fizzled out and one wonders if AVB is going down that supposed “negative spiral” he created for Arsenal!With the extra game in hand, Chelsea has the chance to spring 4 points clear off Tottenham while Arsenal are only 4 points behind their north London rivals. The race for Champions League football is destined to go right down to the wire… err… negative spiral!
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