Chelsea 2 Newcastle 0: Jose Mourinho is having one of his tactical strops — we’ve seen it all before — and refuses to speak to the media; but you don’t need to attend a press conference at Stamford Bridge to understand Chelsea have the body language of champions this season.
His team are now two points clear at the top after a comfortable 2-0 win over Newcastle, and head to Swansea on Saturday to extend that gap to five before nearest rivals Manchester City face Arsenal 24 hours later.
It was a vital victory for Chelsea, too, coming 10 days after they lost 5-3 at Tottenham on New Year’s Day, a result that had the potential to upset their season but which now is already beginning to look like a one-off blip despite the manager’s self-imposed silence.
Mourinho once again opted not to speak to external media after the Newcastle game, having also missed the pre-match press conference — which took place just hours after he was charged by the FA for claiming there is a campaign against his club to deny them penalties.
It’s a classic and well-used tactic by the Special One, designed to distract attention from his team’s recent title wobble, to ease pressure on his players at a crucial time in the season, and to engender the “us against the world” mentality that seems to be his position of choice; however tiresome it may be for others in the football fraternity.
His absence is unlikely to last long, it has already achieved its primary aim after Chelsea recovered from a slow start to ease to victory with goals from Oscar (who fired home in the 45th minute following a short corner that caught the visitors napping) and Diego Costa (a sweet finish in the second half after a wonderful Oscar flick.
On the evidence of the first 30 minutes, it was extremely harsh on Newcastle who, inspired by the skilful Remy Cabella, created some excellent chances, only to find Petr Cech in fine form or to see the frame of the goal denying Sissoko an opener; but in reality there was barely a moment in the game when the majority of people inside Stamford Bridge didn’t believe that Chelsea would be the eventual winners.
The body language of Mourinho’s men spoke far louder than their manager, despite that defeat at White Hart Lane and a draw at Southampton.
“There’s been talk of a blip, it gets mentioned quite a lot about playing poorly, but we’ve played 31 matches and we’ve lost two,” said Chelsea assistant manager Steve Holland, the man charged with the impossible task of stepping into Mourinho’s press conference shoes. “We’re top of the league in one of the hardest leagues in the world, two points clear, we’re in the last 16 of the Champions League, we’re in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup and the fourth round of the FA Cup. Not bad, eh?”
Put like that, you must admit reaction to Chelsea’s defeat at Tottenham may have been overblown. Yes, the Blues looked tired at times in that match — which team hasn’t after such a hectic Christmas schedule?
Yes, they defended poorly on occasions. But they were ahead and in control early in the game and on top at the end — it was just a day when Tottenham had five shots in between and scored five goals. The kind of day you just have to accept comes around every now and again.
Clearly Mourinho felt something had to be done, however. He has rested Gary Cahill since, giving Frenchman Frank Zouma his Premier League debut against Newcastle, and kept Cech in the side even though Thibaut Courtois, who has a fractured finger, could have played if need be on Saturday. But you suspect that ‘blip’ at Spurs is largely over and done with.
“We forgot about that game because we had to play this one,” insisted Zouma, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of great French Chelsea defenders of the past such as Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef. “We didn’t play well in the first half but the second half was good, so now we have forgotten that game. Now we have to look to the future.”
The same is true for Newcastle, who need to make a decision now on whether to appoint caretaker manager John Carver full time, or whether — as is likely — to opt for former Lyon manager Remi Garde. Perhaps they should consult Mourinho who, despite his public silence, had no shortage of words for his opposite number on Saturday. “He said to me ‘if you keep playing like this, you’ll get a five-year contract as Newcastle manager’. It was nice,” said Carver.
“Everyone knows I want the job but right now I am for the short-term. We’ve got Southampton next Saturday, then we’re not playing the following week because we’re out of the FA Cup so there is a little bit of time there for the decision to be made.”
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Ivanovic 7, Zouma 7, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 5 (Luis 37, 6), Fabregas 6, Matic 7, Willian 7, Oscar 6 (Ramires 79, 6), Hazard 6, Costa 8 (Remy 84, 6).
NEWCASTLE: Krul 6, Janmaat 6, Williamson 6, Coloccini 7, Dummett 6, Anita 6, Colback 7, Cabella 8, Sissoko 7 (Riviere 84), Gouffran 6 (Ameob 63,i 6), Perez 7.
Referee: Roger East.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved