Despite experiencing a frustrating start to his fourth season at Stamford Bridge, it came as a shock to many to see Belgian Eden Hazard among the substitutes on the team-sheet. Fans on social media were left furious by Jose Mourinho’s decision to bench their key player and their fears were proven to be with good reason as a Hazard-less Chelsea side slumped to defeat. While the front three were linking well with the lone Diego Costa to begin with, as soon as Porto began controlling the game, the forward was left isolated. When Hazard did eventually enter the fray, he could do little to influence a game that was out of his side’s hands. While there will be those that say Hazard’s recent poor form gave Mourinho licence to give the forward time out to recuperate, one can’t help but feel that any moment of magic to reverse Chelsea’s fortunes would have come from their star man.
Much has been said about the defending champions’s defensive frailties in the opening stages of the season and, not for the first time, Chelsea’s right-hand side looked particularly vulnerable. Branislav Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma endured a torrid time against Porto’s Yacine Brahimi, who proved a constant threat coming in from the right-hand side. Zouma’s naivety was also on show as the young Frenchman found himself going for balls that had already been claimed by Gary Cahill, leading to a stern talking-to his senior partner. In fact, a number of players across the pitch were guilty of doing this, a crime that many would attribute to a Sunday League player, and not defending Premier League champions. On the other flank, Cesar Azpilicueta enjoyed a solid outing but could do little to disguise Chelsea’s general disjointed display at the back.
While Brahimi proved the most potent threat to Chelsea’s goal, it was the performance of Ruben Neves that stood out from the rest. The 18-year-old midfielder was exhausted as he left the pitch and with good reason. He proved a composed presence in a Porto midfield which suffocated their opposite numbers in the central areas and, while he is typically deployed as a defensive midfielder, the Porto academy graduate proved adept at dictating play from deep. Neves, who has made nearly 40 first-team appearances, is rumoured to be in Jose Mourinho’s thoughts for a possible future switch to London. What Neves’ performance could do, however, is show the Chelsea coach that trust can be placed in youth players, something the Portuguese has been seemingly against throughout his coaching career.
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