Juan Manuel Mata took his current superb form to the next level, as Chelsea produced a splendid comeback win against Tottenham in a wild, roller-coaster affair at White Hart Lane.
So, about that project, Andre ... it's going pretty well at the moment, wouldn't you say?
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas may have hinted throughout the week that Saturday's match, at home against former employer Chelsea, had nothing to do with revenge and that there was little personal motivation for him to win (other than the normal aspirations) following what occurred 226 days ago - namely his sacking by Roman Abramovich.
We didn't believe that. Why would we? Villas-Boas must have wanted this one more than most. He had to have. After all, the Portuguese has spoke on a number of occasions of his disappointment with Abramovich's decision. Well, after watching what unfolded at White Hart Lane on Saturday, I don't think he can have too many complaints.
Villas-Boas now has a real sense of how far this Chelsea team has come since his dismissal. This is without a doubt Roberto Di Matteo's side and they are good - really good.
No disrespect to Villas-Boas, of course. I admire the man, and am confident he will become a solid, perhaps great, manager and remain one for quite some time. Here, though, he was outclassed by a team that appears to have rediscovered its never-surrender attitude. This new inclination of Chelsea under Di Matteo, like those editions under Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink, is a Chelsea that doesn't appear too keen on accepting defeat.
This mentality was on full display Saturday, as the boys stormed back following a diabolical start to the second half to remain undefeated in the Premier League and retain a four-point lead atop the table. Things could have been even better had West Bromwich Albion held onto their 1-0 lead against Manchester City, but City, down a man for a majority of the contest, produced one of those champion-esque rallies to record a vital 2-1 win. Romelu Lukaku had a myriad of chances in the final stages to do his host club a solid, but unfortunately failed to do so. Nevertheless, we're rolling on in the league and are looking better with each passing week. I'm feeling good about this, and you should be, too.
I think we all we're feeling good following the opening 45 minutes at The Lane. Chelsea were superb throughout the first half, not only vibrant in attack but, aside from some porous set-piece defending in the early minutes and a decent Petr Cech save from Jermain Defoe, supremely comfortable in both possession and defense. Spurs, unlike your typical Villas-Boas side, sat back and played a more conservative role. It all combined to suit Chelsea well, particularly after Gary Cahill opened the scoring in the 17th minute.
It was a beautiful effort, the defender's fourth goal in eight appearances this season. A limp clearing header from William Gallas of a Eden Hazard corner kick set up Cahill on the center edge of the box, and the England international took full advantage with a searing volley that left Brad Friedel no chance. The strike took a slight deflection off Steven Caulker, but no matter - it was a fantastic hit.
Spurs responded with nothing, really. Gylfi Sigurðsson sent a low effort wide of the near post, but other than that and Cech's save on Defoe, it was smooth sailing for Chelsea. Nevertheless, a second goal seemed necessary, particularly considering recent history at White Hart Lane, and we probably should have had another before halftime. Ramires broke free of Spurs' shackles on 39 minutes before teeing up Mata in the center of the D. The Spaniard, who somehow still can't get a look-in for his country, whipped a first-time shot toward the far post that Friedel managed to parry back into play, and then skied the follow-up when it looked easier to hit the target.
In that moment, I had a feeling we may come to regret Mata's miss. That proved to be true, unfortunately.
The players scarcely had found time to settle back into the match when Spurs fashioned a leveler. Conceding isn't new to Chelsea, but this was just embarrassing. David Luiz played catalyst by laying out Clint Dempsey with a dumbfounding aerial challenge he had no chance of winning. Tom Huddlestone took the resulting free kick, which somehow made its way past a handful of Chelsea players to Jan Vertonghen at the back post. Vertonghen redirected the ball back across the face of goal, where Gallas was in a prime position to glance a header into an open net. Four Chelsea players were in position to deal with the initial threat, but decided rather just to watch the play unfold. Woeful.
It was a worst-case scenario for the visitors, and now Spurs had all the momentum and plenty of time to push on. That's just what they did. The goal gave Tottenham a new lease on life, which they used to batter Chelsea over the next 10 or so minutes. Sigurðsson had a shot deflected over the crossbar moments after the equalizer, and then wasted an even better chance in the 51st minute. Chelsea was rattled, and it didn't take long for the hosts to capitalize. On 54 minutes, Defoe did what he does best - score - reacting quickly to a scuffed shot from Aaron Lennon and redirecting it past Cech at his near post. Suddenly, after dominating for a half, Chelsea found itself trailing and on the cusp of its first league defeat of the season.
Not so fast. This is, as mentioned earlier, a different Chelsea side. This Chelsea side, they don't take kindly to the idea of losing. Two minutes after going behind, Ashley Cole probably should have had a penalty after being clipped by Gallas (the former Chelsea player was involved in everything, good and bad) on the left side of the box. Referee Mike Dean waved play on, however, to the dismay of the England fullback. The non-call appeared to serve Chelsea well, with the visitors gradually working their way back into the match.
Fernando Torres got himself in the mix midway through the half with a couple of contributions, including winning what should have been a free kick just outside the right side of the box after a tangle with Vertonghen. The Belgian defender may have gotten away with that foul, but he didn't in the 65th minute when he collided with Ramires at midfield. The subsequent free kick (I think there was a free kick, but may be wrong) proved to be a killer for Spurs, as Chelsea decided to play on quickly through Mata. Mata fed the ball out wide right for Oscar, whose cross to the center of the box was only half-cleared by Gallas. Who else, right? The poor clearance fell perfectly for Mata, and the diminutive schemer slotted a low shot just inside the near post that left Friedel rooted.
A pivotal goal from the day's most pivotal player.
From that point on, it was Chelsea's game to win. Winning was in the cards, too, with Mata pulling the strings. Moments before Mata would add to his tally, though, Torres had a chance to give Chelsea the lead. The striker instead wasted a glorious chance in the 69th minute when he was freed down the inside-right channel by Hazard, holding onto the ball for far too long and allowing Kyle Walker to disrupt the move. However, before any of us could chastise the Spaniard for not pulling the trigger, his fellow countryman was restoring Chelsea's advantage.
Chelsea instantly won possession back via Spurs' hastened clearance, and eventually worked the ball out left for Oscar. He and Mata exchanged short passes before Mikel got in on the act and moved the ball on for Hazard in the middle of the pitch. This is where it gets good, people. Mata had made a diagonal run inside from the left toward the area. Hazard, as he is a footballing genius, knew this. So what did the Belgian do? Well, he played an absurd first-time through ball in between the two Spurs central defenders for Mata. All Mata had to do was finish against a confounded Gallas, and he did so with aplomb at the near post. Pure class.
Sixty-nine minutes gone. Chelsea back in front. Yes, this is a goal of the season candidate.
This Mata kid, he can't stop scoring at the moment. He nearly added his sixth goal in five games, seventh in all competitions this season, in the 72nd minute but couldn't quite clip his shot from the left of the box over Friedel who is a rather large, and ominous-looking, man. No worries, though. We weren't done, and neither was Mata. Oscar was the next to test Friedel, slapping a low burner toward the near post that the American palmed away. A few minutes later, Torres curled a shot from the left of the box inches wide of the far post. Then, in the 91st, the boys wrapped it up thanks in large part to the hilarious ineptitude of Walker. I can, of course, say this because Walker was quite rubbish Saturday and, more importantly, tried to decapitate Mata earlier in the match.
Anyway. Walker dallied on the ball after Ramires had wasted a chance on the counter for the visitors. The young England fullback's hesitancy was a lovely sight for Mata, who closed him down and waited for the inevitable mistake. Walker fell over on the left touchline, Mata picked up the pieces and then squared the ball across the face of goal for Daniel Sturridge to tap into an open net. Have some of that, they said. Well, it was I who said that after Sturridge, just back from injury, wrapped up the points. Have some of that.
The away support sang on in furious voice, as they had all day, and the minutes gradually ticked off. It was over. That's seven wins out of eight in the league, two of those in pivotal away London derbies. It's certainly early, but this team has the look of title contenders. John Obi Mikel and Ramires are looking handy in the double pivot. Our attacking trident has been sensational. The defense, maligned by some, is providing solidity for the most part. There's panache and steel in this side, and now a cutthroat mentality it would seem. It's going to be supreme fun watching Chelsea as the season progresses.
Who was today's man of the match?
Juan Mata (984 votes)
Gary Cahill (3 votes)
Eden Hazard (12 votes)
John Obi Mikel (72 votes)
Other (12 votes)
1083 total votes