A wondrous run from David Luiz, making his first appearance under Villas-Boas, gave the Blues the lead. A late surge down the left wing by Fernando Torres found an unmarked Juan Mata, who coolly slotted home his second goal in less than three complete games with the club.
With his first big test of the season, Manchester United, looming on Sunday, Villas-Boas gambled and sat captain John Terry, vice-captain Frank Lampard and work horse Ramires. Luiz, after finally returning from injury, would take the spot of Terry, while Raul Meireles and Florent Malouda would fill in the midfield.
With a relatively fortunate group, Leverkusen figured to be Chelsea’s main contender for the top spot. The team has its fair share of stars, including former Chelsea standout Michael Ballack, who was honored for his services at Stamford Bridge before the game.
Chelsea would have the first opportunity to get on the board, but Torres would send Sturridge’s cross wide. Both teams would then have goals disallowed, with Leverkusen having a bit more of case for theirs than Chelsea.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Villas-Boas’ replacement of Meireles and Sturridge for Lampard and Anelka had instant success.
Though neither were directly involved in the play, their introduction was followed by Luiz’s surging run forward, before laying it off to Torres, who found him back at the top of the box for a brilliant bending finish.
With less than a minute to go, Torres would make his own run on the left flank. Beating the midfield with a give and go exchange with Malouda that Chelsea fans have been waiting 20 plus games for, he would find Mata open on the penalty spot. The No. 10, who had missed a chance from there earlier, did not this time and put the game away.
Villas-Boas’ gamble paid off and the early win puts them on top of the group. At times the team struggled and turned over the ball far too often. But with United just around the corner, a conservative approach and win is all that was expected.
Luiz made his first appearance this season in a Chelsea
uniform after finally getting over his Copa America hangover and a nagging
injury. Many believed that this would be a great time for him to get a start.
He was finally healthy, he needed to get some work in soon, and John Terry
needed a break before the game against United.
He paid back Villas-Boas for giving him the nod with a
decisive run that split the midfield and broke the deadlock with his first
goal of the season. It was the kind of run Chelsea fans has become accustomed
to and fall much more in line with Villas-Boas’ belief in an attack-minded back
line. However, there is still much to question about the young Brazilian.
His arrival at Stamford Bridge was shadowed by the bank
breaking move for Torres. But his role on the team became instantly more
important than that of the strikers. His goal against Manchester United last
season gave them a crucial win that helped propel Chelsea into a series of
results that got them back into the title race.
He is an absolutely electric player who’s style wows and
awes fans and opponents. He is as comfortable with the ball on his feet as the
best of midfielders and as quick as a forward. His mind seems to always be on
the attack and given space he will carry the ball right up to the opponent’s
box. He brought a spark to the Chelsea team that was needed and really enlivened
a backline that had a clear-the-ball mentality.
With all that said, he is quite a distance away from where
Villas-Boas and many minds disciplined to the game would like. His yearning to
get forward is quite commendable, but often can be even more harmful than not.
It puts him far out of position and allows for very quick counter-attacks. Even
yesterday's goal could have been fatal if not for perfect passes and the finish.
Had it clanked off a defender's shin or been intercepted, Ivanonvic was left all
alone in the back.
Furthermore, his defending itself is often dumbfounding and
reckless. He has given away a number of crucial penalties by diving into legs unnecessarily
and has garnered his fair share of yellow cards. In the game against Leverkusen
alone, he had a foolish yellow and much to the surprise of everyone watching, he was
not given a second for another dumb challenge.
Ray Wilkins in a post game analysis suggested that he play
the midfield. It would give him more freedom to play the attacking style he
wants and not have the liability of getting out of position.
It is safe to assume that he will continue to impress on
this team and be a fan favorite, but come Sunday and any other big matches, he
will probably find his role limited if at all. He is too much of a risk against
better competition to make him the last line of defense before the goal.
John Terry and Frank Lampard do not have more than a handful
of years left at the Bridge. Once they leave, not only will the fans be saying
goodbye the two of the best players to ever put on the blue uniform, but also
an era marked by their faces. The two together have become the poster children
of Chelsea FC and will forever be mythical figures at the west London club. But
the question remains who will replace them in that role.
Well that answer is slowly becoming…nay, quickly becoming
one Juan Mata.
No one doubted the Spaniard’s ability to play the game when
he was purchased from Valencia in August. However, nearly all, including
Villas-Boas himself, saw him as the last missing piece in solving the enigma
that is Fernando Torres. Instead, he has become the most masterful, skilled, and
creative player on the squad.
Statistically no one was a better pick up this summer than
Mata (arguably Sergio Aguero). Two goals in less than three full games, an
assist in another and countless opportunities that have begun through him.
However, his biggest impact has been just in his presence
alone. The stagnant midfield that seemed to be behind the flow of play against
every opponent saw an immediate boost from the swift wingers sharp runs and
The left side has become the preferred side to start the
attack as Mata commands the midfield the same way Lampard had years ago.
Outside backs cannot defend him alone, drawing more attention from the defense,
opening the game for Lampard, Meireles, and Luiz yesterday to play their game.
Yesterday was the first time Torres and Mata had substantial
time on the field together at the club level. They did not fail to impress. Moving
forward, this will be Mata’s team.
Sturridge’s loan to Bolton in the second half of last season is now proving to be perhaps the best move Carlo Ancelotti made. In the 12 appearances he made for the Wanderers, he scored an impressive eight goals.
He would continue his success right into this summer’s preseason, being arguably the best player during the campaign. Many fans were encouraged by this and were already lobbying for him to get a starting spot on the right wing. However, he was forced to sit out the first three matches due to a red card he had picked up in the final game of last season.
With Sturridge’s suspension served, Villas-Boas immediately threw him into the mix, giving him the start in his first two games of eligibility, against Sunderland and Leverkusen. In both, he would just continue to grow as a player and pick up right where he left off in Asia.
Being deployed on the right wing was not the ideal spot in his mind, but he has quickly adapted and become as much of a threat as any winger Chelsea or many other teams could muster up. His speed is unmatched, his crossing is direct, and his instincts for the goal are innate.
The thought was that he was going to get significant playing time throughout the season, but at only age 22 and showing most of his brilliance against much weaker competition, it was safe to assume that he may struggle a bit. On the contrary, he has relieved Villas-Boas’ anxiety about lack of true wingers and looks to figure himself into every crucial match from here on out.
Let’s hope Bolton can do the same for Kakuta.
During the summer, Torres and Drogba battling out for the striker spot, rumors swirling about possible forwards who could be on their way to the bridge, and Anelka aging quickly, the Frenchman appeared to find himself on the outside looking in.
Many speculated that his faithful years of service in a Chelsea uniform were coming to an end as he would be forced out or to a reserve role. However, with Torres struggling, Drogba injured, and a need for wingers persisting, Anelka has found himself more time on the field than any other forward. And the reason for this is simple: when he plays, they win.
His single goal, which was helped in with a little bit of luck through a deflection off a defender, is nothing that will statistically shock a fan, but for one reason or another, his presence seems to just tip the run of play in Chelsea’s favor.
He is often criticized more than he is hailed for playing too narrow when put on the wing. Fans and the media will point that his central-minded attack mentality has him always drifting towards the center and clogging up Torres’ space. But in truth, his movement toward the center has opened ample room for Bosingwa to move up from the right back spot.
He came on as a substitute yesterday in the 65th minute. Though Sturridge played a brilliant game, he was not able to help the team to score. Two minutes later, Luiz would make his run and open up the match.
Anelka had no part in the play, but he was on the field. Even Mata’s final goal, he was not in the build up and didn’t touch the ball. But his move to the back post gave Mata yards of space.
Anelka is not going to score the 25 goals he did three seasons ago. He may not even get into double digits. But so far him being on the pitch has led to goals, and at this point, he looks like he will figure in major matches for that point alone.
Note: This is meant to be an impartial assessment. Any bias is unintended.
Villas-Boas did all but say that Tuesday’s match was a make-or-break game for the Spaniard. The manager also gave him the team that was built around him. Lampard, Terry, Anelka, Ramires, all the players who play a slow-paced, methodical style were on the bench, while the speedy wingers that could keep up with Torres were favored.
The move worked…somewhat.
Torres was more lively than he had been in any of the matches thus far. He finally played without the ball at his feet, making one touches and getting in behind the back line.
He would end the game with two great assists, both doing exactly what he should have done in the situation and beginning to look like he is forming into the player Abramovic thought he was buying.
With that said, he also missed a handful of opportunities that he should have put away. One was right in front of the net, and his slow reactions allowed the defense to cover up. Another time, he headed the ball over the net and should have made a better chance of it.
All in all, Torres’ play was influential in the Chelsea win. From a fan's standpoint, that is all you can ask of him. But someone who is concerned with his development, someone like Villas-Boas, you have to take the result with a grain of salt.
Yes, he helped create two goals, but this was team that Chelsea were expected to beat. His wasted opportunities in front of the net will not be so forgiving against stiffer opponents.
With United only a few days away, Torres may have done enough to get him the start in the first big game of the season, especially if Drogba is still out. Villas-Boas’ decision on the matter will be more telling than anything about how he sees his £50 million man.
Is Mata the best player on Chelsea?
Will Anelka see more playing time?
Is Sturridge's future more bright than his play now?
Has Torres finally shown his true colors?
And, of course, anything else you would like to say...