Never in doubt.
Much more like it from the champions; after last week’s wobble against a plucky but ultimately limited Leeds, there were concerns that Chelsea’s expensively assembled team would provide us with a real test. This was the proverbial chance to lay down a marker for the rest of the division.
The announcement that Fabinho would be partnering Virgil in central defence today, due to the absence of both Gomez and Matip, caused a few moments of panic in the pre-match thread; fortunately, there were far fewer from the man himself and he had an immaculate game. Although there are continued rumours linking us with Kabak and other centre halves, I for one would have no concerns if Fab had to fill in at the back.
Alisson has not been at his best lately- to be fair, he is not alone in that respect- and he was a virtual spectator throughout. However, the sign of a top class goalkeeper is that he maintains his concentration and Ali passed his one major test with flying colours, waiting and waiting and actually keeping both heels on the line to thwart Jorginho’s penalty attempt in the 75th minute. He also made a crisp save from Abraham in the dying minutes.
The rest of the defence hasn’t started well either but, again, they were barely tested by Fat Frank’s merry mercenaries.
After all the predictions of another action-packed encounter to match the 5-3 thriller at Anfield a couple of months ago, I suppose that it was inevitable that the first half would turn out to be a snooze fest. Bobby might have done better when his close-range shot was blocked by Christensen in the opening fifteen minutes, while Gini had a couple of tame/poor early efforts. At the other end, Werner had a shot which had Alisson scrambling (well, sort of) just after the half hour mark, while Robbo missed a decent chance shortly afterwards. Mo put a lovely ball across the six-yard box but nobody gambled on it; Christensen should have been sent off for a rugby tackle which denied Sadio a clear goalscoring opportunity- thank fuck Michael Oliver in the VAR box asked Paul Tierney to reconsider and the Dane rightfully received his marching orders on the stroke of half time.
The introduction of Thiago at half time was just what the doctor ordered; his guile and experience in breaking down packed defences soon showed as he started dictating play almost immediately. His ability to switch play from side to side had Chelsea stretched and opened up space through the middle for us to exploit.
Salah (who never passes, don’t forget) combined well with Firmino and the latter set up Mané for the opening goal, the Senegal international’s header giving the much maligned Kepa absolutely no chance.
The Chelsea goalkeeper then showed just why he is a laughing stock when he gifted Sadio his second goal just four minutes later; I watched Arrizabalaga quite a bit at Bilbao and he has all the ability to be a world class goalkeeper; sadly, it appears that he doesn’t have the mental fortitude required.
After that, the game just became an attack v defence training match, played almost at walking pace. Chelsea knew they were beaten; we knew that we could raise our game several notches if necessary, although Thiago’s clumsy challenge on Werner gave Jorginho the aforementioned opportunity to pull one back from the penalty spot.
It’s always nice to leave Stamford Bridge with three points; all the more so when we’ve been barely out of second gear. While some will say that the Christensen red card was the deciding moment, I would contend that we were already well in control and would have worked our way through them eventually anyway.
Arsenal next: we gifted them the three points in a match we completely dominated but somehow contrived to lose during Project Restart; their Community Shield victory was also gained largely against the run of play. We need to bring the highflying Gunners back to earth with a hefty bump.
WOTM: my other half’s sister. Her kids support Chelsea (blame their dad) and she invited us over so that I could watch it with them today (their dad left a couple of years ago) while the two sisters could have a good post-lockdown catch-up in the kitchen. And her legendary chocolate millefeuille is just as good as it’s always been.