Thursday 14 November 2019

Alan Hansen: This rout has not turned Blues into title contenders

Alan Hansen

In the context of the title race, Chelsea's demolition of Aston Villa meant absolutely nothing. Do not try to read anything into the performance – sensational as it was – if you are looking for a pointer as to who will win the Premier League in May.

There are only two clubs in contention, Manchester United and Manchester City, and the weekend fixtures served only to underline why Chelsea are a million miles from challenging their supremacy.

City's late winner against Reading was far more significant in terms of showing us who has the character to go the distance. It sounds like a contradiction, but the fact is you do not win titles by battering teams when you are playing well. You win titles by grinding out victories when you are playing poorly, something United possess in their DNA and City are beginning to replicate.

We have seen it all before with this Chelsea team, earlier this season in fact, when they started with a flourish and then wilted under pressure.

They were four points ahead and flying. In the talented midfield trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar they possess the most elegant, technically gifted players in the Premier League.

What could possibly have gone wrong as they were brushing opponents aside, threatening the eight-goal feast we witnessed at Stamford Bridge?

What happened was the reality that such easy afternoons are rare, and for the most part the Premier League is a slog requiring the kind of graft we have not yet witnessed in this new-look Chelsea team.

Nobody will question their talent. They are playing the most attractive brand of football in the country, fabulous to watch and capable of ripping teams to shreds.

But I would rather see what happens when they go to Goodison Park next weekend before proclaiming they will not make the same mistakes. It is going to be at those type of venues that we will discover much more about the difference, if any, between now and the start of the season.

United and City have not hit the dizzy heights of Chelsea's display against Villa – neither side has played anywhere near their best all season – but they still have a big cushion because they have more of the type of performers who will win you the title.

We can all wax lyrical about the brilliance of Chelsea's midfield trio, but who would you rather have? Mata, Hazard, Oscar or the Frank Lampard of five years ago? Lampard does not possess the same technical qualities as the other three, but his wider attributes set him apart. He is a proven winner.

Throughout their most successful recent period, he was the driving force from midfield and his colleagues have some way to go before they're capable of having the same impact over 38 games.

Having said all this, it is clear that Rafael Benitez has identified several problems and already tried to rectify them, with the position of David Luiz, not surprisingly, top of that list.

The fact of the matter is opposition managers have watched Luiz at centre-half and thought "there is a mistake in him".

As a defender, once you have that reputation, you are in big trouble.

Moving him into midfield is a solution and he was excellent yesterday, but we need context here too. Put anyone in front of that back four against a side playing like Villa, and they will impersonate a Rolls-Royce all afternoon. He had the time and space to do whatever he liked on the ball.

It will be at the tougher venues that we will see if Luiz has what it takes to reinvent himself as a holding midfielder. Until then, it would be wise to reserve judgment.

So forget the scoreline. Chelsea showed us nothing we did not already know about them. They are capable of outstanding football.

The challenge for Benitez is to work out how to ensure they deal with the pressure far better than they did when Roberto Di Matteo was still in charge.

Benitez, I suspect, has the greater capacity to find the solutions than his predecessor, but it will need much more than an easy home win against a team that did not turn up before we can declare Chelsea have turned their corner. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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