So far this season in the Premier League, Chelsea have been largely able to dominate teams that, in one form or another, have looked to take them on toe-to-toe. It is not often, perhaps, that a cry goes out of ‘Bring back Tony Pulis’, but there remains a suspicion that, against a team which can effectively bypass the midfield, the Blues can be got at. Behind the undeniably fine pairing of Cesc Fàbregas and Nemanja Matic, Gary Cahill finds himself beaten more often than he would like, while neither he nor John Terry is the most nimble centre back or, for that matter, the cleanest tackler. Both, meanwhile, have played every minute of their team’s Premier League campaign; Terry has also been ever-present in the Champions League. Kurt Zouma has been blooded in a couple of Champions League ties, and has not looked out-of-place, but has played just one minute of league football for the Blues. In goal, Thibaut Courtois has been far from a liability, but has not been the impassable force that he was last year for Atlético Madrid, and was recently challenged to improve his communication by former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. While far from an area of real concern for José Mourinho, the Portuguese will be keeping an eye on things at the back-end of his team, and will be challenging them all to up their game.
Chelsea have only drawn twice this season, and in truth, have rarely looked troubled in any of their other matches. They did, however, throw away two points against Manchester United, as well as finding themselves in a little spot of bother against Crystal Palace, and the key theme from those two games in particular has been a lack of discipline. The trip to Old Trafford saw them pick up seven yellow cards (two for Branislav Ivanovic), while the blushes of César Azpilicueta’s first half red card at Selhurst Park were only saved by Damien Delaney’s own dismissal a matter of minutes later. Those two sendings off themselves may not have significantly altered the outcomes of those games, but they hint at a problem which could yet come back to bite José Mourinho’s men. In a tight game, even a yellow card can increase the pressure on a player, inviting wily opponents to take them on more often in an attempt to prompt the red. Furthermore, indiscipline leads to suspension. Seven Chelsea players have started all ten league games this season, while Azpilicueta was heading towards ever-presence himself until the Crystal Palace game. Consistent selection has been an important part of the Blues’ all-conquering start, but if indiscipline starts to kick in, that will begin to be sacrificed.
It may seem churlish to criticise an attack that has scored 26 goals in ten games, but there is room for improvement here. Diego Costa has of course started the season imperiously, while behind him Eden Hazard has been maybe the league’s player of the year so far. Oscar has claimed three goals and two assists. Willian and André Schürrle, on the other hand, are yet to quite set the league alight. The German has been criticised by his manager for inconsistency and a lack of defensive application, and he was sacrificed at half time against Maribor in midweek. Willian, on the other hand, is renowned for his tracking back, but was challenged to improve his attacking output by José Mourinho in a recent Telegraph interview with Gary Neville. His shots per game are the lowest of the four, and he plays distinctly third fiddle to Hazard and Oscar in terms of key passes and assists. In most matches, of course, the presence of Oscar, Hazard and Costa, prompted by Fàbregas, will be more than enough, but if a game is going down to the wire or injuries begin to strike, either Willian or Schürrle needs to step up.
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