herald

Monday 21 August 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Chelsea look way ahead of Premier chasers

Jose's men shaping up like new Invincibles

jose mourinho
jose mourinho

I know it's a bit early to be thinking about Chelsea as invincible but I have to say, the way they played against Arsenal brought to mind Arsene Wenger's first great team.

A result and performance which sets a maker for the rest of the season suggested to me that Chelsea are already well ahead of everyone else in terms of the balance of the team and I believe they will only get better.

This Chelsea team moves the ball as well as that great Gunners team did and they have a steely defensive edge which is very obviously well ahead of any other club in the title chase.

Wenger inherited one of the best defences in Europe when he first came to Arsenal and managed to improve all of them as footballers. He moulded a fantastically well-balanced team and built his reputation as one of the management greats around it

But he has never managed to repeat that simply because he doesn't have an instinctive feel for defenders or indeed goalkeepers and has bought a succession of near duds.

Jose Mourinho is another matter entirely. He thinks defensively and understands how to organise a group of men to defend well.

Last season, I was one of those who felt that Mourinho sucked the life out of the title race by 'parking the bus'. I accept that it is no easy thing to do well but I was convinced that his primary reason for using it as a match tactic was simply because he didn't have anyone to score him a few goals.

Now he's got that in Diego Costa but he still has a defensive mind and, appropriately enough, the best defence in the Premier League.

Remember, John Terry was on the way out of Chelsea not so long ago but his manager had a much different idea and promptly restored him as a central cog in everything the team do. His partnership with Gary Cahill is central to everything.

And when I look at the other title hopefuls, I don't see defenders of the quality

or more importantly, playing with the same level of organisation.

Of course, the key to any Mourinho team will always be that he has built from the back but the man who is knitting the whole thing together is Costa, without doubt one if the best strikers I've seen in many, many years.

But Mourinho had to identify him and then do the background work needed to bring him to Stamford Bridge.

Costa doesn't just lead the line very well. He works all over the pitch and leads by the example he sets with his ferociously competitive instincts.

JOY

It really is a joy to watch him at work. Defenders absolutely hate the sight of him and his team-mates have been raving about how easy he is to play with.

He has very little English but apparently is the life and soul of the party. At the rate he is scoring goals, he will be the life and soul of a Chelsea title win.

What I particularly like about him is the impact he is having on those around him.

I'm seeing Oscar and Eden Hazard ripping into tackles and tracking back like they never did before.

A lot of the credit for that must, of course, go to Mourinho who clearly knew how good Costa was and not just in terms of filling the goal scoring gap he found when he returned to Stamford Bridge.

What Costa illustrates perfectly is the value you get from buying proven talent and I can't help but feel that Liverpool missed a trick.

Losing Luis Suarez has gutted the team and taken away so many of the things that were good about Liverpool last season.

I know Brendan Rodgers and many others have said that Suarez was impossible to replace but what if, for instance, Rodgers had been in the market for Costa.

Could he have supplied the same dynamism, physical threat and remarkable goal scoring rate that the Uruguayan? Of course he could.

There was some improvement from Liverpool on Saturday. Their 2-1 win over West Ham contained a passage of football which may well prove to be the way forward.

Late in the game, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva took over the defensive midfield work and Stevie Gerrard pushed forward to link up wi Mario Balotelli.

INTERESTING

Suddenly, Liverpool were working nice little moves around the edge of the box and the makings of a very interesting partnership between Gerrard and Balotelli began to show.

I don't know if this is something that Rodgers wants to develop but clearly the idea that Gerrard would play out his days as the anchor-man in midfield has been dumped. Gerrard shipped a lot of criticism in the last few weeks which I thought was unfair. I said a few weeks ago that he needed help and it looks like Rodgers is now adressing the issue.

The scale of the gap between this Liverpool team and the version which finished the season in second place caused by Suarez's exit is so big that even Gerrard in the full flower of his youth and with endless miles in his legs would not have been able to compensate.

Rodgers has been grappling with the problem since Suarez left and if Gerrard can bring the best out of Balotelli, it could make the difference between a poor season and a Top Four finish.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News