It was as close to a perfect weekend as it’s likely to get for Chelsea, claiming the first trophy of the season, the Capital One Cup, shortly after their Premier League title rivals, Manchester City, slipped up against Liverpool. No wonder Jose Mourinho was all smiles at Wembley.
The League Cup was a decade ago the catalyst for Mourinho’s first title success in English football and few would be surprised to see history repeat itself. Chelsea are now five points clear of City, despite the champions having played a game more. Chelsea’s game in hand will come in April against Leicester City and though Mourinho won’t assume the points are won before the match is, it would be a major shock if the meeting at the King Power Stadium ends in anything other than an away victory.
Chelsea’s Wembley success came without Nemanja Matic in midfield, the dependable, destructive Serbian who has anchored the Blues’ midfield. Kurt Zouma was deployed in his place, out of his regular centre-back position, and impressed a great deal, despite only having seven Premier League appearances to his name this season. Although, Zouma’s rare run-outs in the league have brought 120 EuroFantasyLeague points, so perhaps there shouldn’t be such surprise at his mature, dominant performance.
Zouma – and goal scoring man of the match John Terry – played with the kind of authority that once belonged to City skipper Vincent Kompany. Unfortunately for City’s title defence, the Belgium international has too often lacked his usual lead-by-example calmness and hasn’t been the imposing figure of last year. Kompany was beaten to the ball by Philippe Coutinho in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal, the latest in a growing number of errors from the defender.
Indeed, City have just about out-scored Chelsea in league action – 57 goals to 56 – but have conceded 27 to Chelsea’s 22. The margins are fine but that’s often what the destination of the title comes down to. City beat Liverpool to last year’s title by two points, scoring a goal more than the Reds but conceding 13 fewer. With the firepower available to City and Chelsea, it’s at the other end that the difference is telling, just as it did 12 months ago.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini, criticised for his tactics in the Champions League defeat to Barcelona in midweek, received similar condemnation after the reverse at Anfield. He made three changes to the XI between Tuesday and Sunday but the spirit remained the same – open, flowing, we’ll-score-more-than-you, which only works if the defence is sturdy. The out-of-form Kompany and the uncertain Eliaquim Mangala are many things, but sturdy isn’t one of them.
Pellegrini may argue that too many changes, in personnel or approach, would be detrimental to his side and he may be right. But there’s a difference between faith and stubbornness. Mourinho showed the way with his inventive solution to the absence of Matic and that, combined with Chelsea’s impregnable defence, has already secured one trophy – and another should come in May.
Get upto £200 in free matched bets with bet365 - Click here to find out more