Crystal Palace 1 Chelsea 2
Jose Mourinho is constantly asking questions of his Chelsea players and they answered a few in emphatic style at Selhurst Park, as goals from Oscar and Cesc Fabregas gained revenge for last season’s embarrassment by Crystal Palace.
Do they have the ‘cojones’ to win when it matters, not just against the big four but against the Premier League’s lesser lights? Yes, according to Mourinho afterwards, who smiled as he wrote “Big Balls” on a reporter’s notepad to explain the difference between last season’s failure and this success.
Can they succeed without top-scorer Diego Costa, who missed a league game for the first time because of the hamstring injury excarbeted by national service with Spain? Yes, according to captain John Terry, who celebrated his 500th game as captain with another solid display.
And is this a team that can win the title? “Yes we can,” said Mourinho, though warning against over-confidence. “In another league I would say we will, but you cannot say that in the Premier League. But we can win it.”
Chelsea certainly have the look of champions, a more complete side than last season’s since the addition of a goalscorer (Costa) and the introduction of one of the world’s best midfielders in Fabregas. The former Arsenal and Barcelona man has been running operations from deep since joining in the summer, and has now scored his first goal, venturing forward to play a couple of delightful one-two’s before shooting calmly past Julian Speroni shortly after half-time.
That was Chelsea’s second goal, putting them in complete control after Oscar had opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a superb dipping free-kick. Both sides were reduced to ten men in the space of three minutes before the break when Cesar Azpilicuta saw red for lunging in on Mile Jedinak, and then Palace’s Damien Delaney stupidly pulled back Loic Remy to earn a second yellow card.
Palace complained that Fabregas and company helped referee Craig Pawson decide to send off Delaney by demanding action, but they were just as guilty when Azpilicueta got his marching orders.
“At this level players have a big influence on the games and they can influence referees sometimes. It’s part and parcel of the game,” said Jedinak afterwards.
He admitted Chelsea were too strong for Palace, especially once they had taken a two-goal lead, and Fraizer Campbell’s late strike for the hosts was simply “five or ten minutes too late for us.” Chelsea, by contrast, look unstoppable and Remy’s willingness to chase and harry made light of Costa’s absence, as Terry agreed. “Yes, I think we answered that. Diego has still got a massive part to play, but Loic showed today how sharp he is and ready to come in when Diego is not fully fit or not playing well and do a job.”
Mourinho agreed: “Without Diego it was great, because there is a general feeling that our team improved because of Diego and Fabregas, which is fair to say. But this team has had a big improvement, not just because of that, but the team generally thinks the game, controls the game, copes in different moments in a completely different way. It was good for the group to have an important victory without one player that until this moment has scored so many goals and given us so many points.”
On the ‘big balls’ issue, Mourinho added: “Sometimes when you use that term it’s not just about being brave, having courage, fighting a lot, and coping with a physical match. This was not about that. This was about imposing our game. From minute one we had the ball, we passed the ball, we moved players, we circulated the ball. They had two or three situations immediately in the first couple of minutes and after that everything was under control. Even minute 90, 2-1, with four minutes to go, no panic. The same kind of control and the same kind of stability. I like that.”
Mourinho believes his side are close to the ones he had when he first arrived in England ten years and won back-to-back titles: “We are reaching that level. But in my first spell here we had already in the team players with great maturity, with great knowledge of the game. People like Makelele, and Gallas, Carvalho, Frank Lampard. Last year my team was naïve, and couldn’t cope with certain moments of the game, so we work, we work, we work and in this moment I’m happy. We are not a perfect team – there is a long way to go – but in many aspects our team is a better team.”
CRYSTAL PALACE 4-5-1: Speroni 6; Kelly 6, Hangeland 6, Delaney 5, Ward 6; Puncheon 6 (Zaha, 70), McArthur 7 (Guedioura, 70), Jedinak 7, Ledley 6 (Mariappa, 60), Bolasie 6; Campbell 7.
CHELSEA 4-2-3-1: Courtois 6; Ivanovic 7, Cahill 6, Terry 7, Azpilicueta 5; Fabregas 8, Matic 9; Willian 6 (Luis, 41), Oscar 8, Hazard 8 (Salah, 85); Remy 6 (Drogba, 87).
Referee: C Pawson
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