Chelsea 2 Newcastle United 0
Chelsea have used the Premier League’s opening week to deliver their own statement of intent. A lavish summer transfer outlay had hinted at regeneration, the constant reminders of Munich in May a recognition of what this club have already achieved, but it is the perfect start played out to a swashbuckling style that has turned heads. The first few skirmishes suggest the team boasts the class to unseat the Manchester clubs.
A third successive win maintained the European champions’ pristine opening, with this their most impressive performance to date, given that it was achieved against a Newcastle team whose own pedigree is now well established after last season’s exploits. Alan Pardew’s side had dazzled themselves when visiting south-west London back in the spring, the pair of goals conjured up by Papiss Cissé that night still seared on the memory. Yet the pizzazz this time around was all Chelsea’s. Their collective is a blur of attacking intent at present but the whole setup feels revived by the tricks and flicks summoned by Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, and by the form such creativity is coaxing from Fernando Torres.
This was another reminder that the Spaniard can still return to the prolific form of his early days at Liverpool and blot out his first 18 months of toil with this club.
Pardew, in defeat, conceded of Torres that this had been “one of his better games”, the rival manager’s praise more emotive for the manner in which the striker dispatched the second goal. “A classic,” he offered, reflecting on Hazard’s subtle back-heel and the instinctive, fizzed finish with the outside of Torres’s right boot that flew beyond a scrabbling Tim Krul. There had been no time to think, no split second to fret, and the 28-year-old had his best Chelsea goal to date to celebrate.
There will be others like this while the London club thrive on swiftly constructed, one-touch interchanges and fluid movement. Opponents will devise ways to choke the approach, though Hazard, Mata and Torres will take some stopping. Mata, last season’s player of the year, has slipped seamlessly back into last season’s early form, his performances sometimes eclipsed by Hazard hogging the limelight.
Yet this team’s more potent threat is invariably born of that pairing’s combination play. Hazard is merely applying the gloss.
“He travels with the ball and bides time, and has that kind of nonchalance about him that marks him out as a great player,” said Pardew. “He made the right decision every time he got it today, and he’s made a difference to Chelsea from last season. He’s given them a little bit extra.”
It felt exceptional that the 21-year-old actually had no involvement in the winning of the first-half penalty from which he opened his account for the club, Torres bursting beyond Davide Santon and inducing a panicked swing from Vurnon Anita, on his Premier League debut, over which the forward duly tumbled. This was not the moment to judge Newcastle’s £6.7m signing from Ajax.
The Belgian gleefully dispatched the spot-kick in the absence of the rested Frank Lampard, but his contribution will be measured in more than goals this term. In his past 21 league games for Lille and Chelsea he has taken his personal tally to 14 goals scored, 14 assists provided and seven penalties won.
Roberto Di Matteo is growing tired of thinking up new plaudits with which to appraise Hazard’s displays. The manager does not seem comfortable with superlatives. “He hasn’t surprised us,” he said. “We watched him a lot last season and it’s a different league, so you’re not quite sure how he’ll adapt to the Premier League, but he seems to have found his feet very quickly. He’s a wonderful player for us.”
Few recruited from abroad have started in this division with such assurance, and it does not feel as if he is peaking too early.
Di Matteo, in truth, was probably as heartened here by Chelsea’s solidity in the absence of the injured John Terry as his side’s attacking verve, the defensive frailties that had reared in pre-season and again against Reading in midweek eradicated against a Newcastle team who appeared jaded at times by Europa League endeavours just 48 hours earlier. Only two of the Newcastle side had featured against Atromitos in Greece, but it took time for them to summon a threat. Yet Cissé was peripheral, and Demba Ba was denied smartly by Petr Cech near the end.
That was as close as the visitors came, their opportunities chiselled out amid the huff and puff. Chelsea will not have that problem. The home side had paraded Victor Moses, returned to London where he was first developed in the Crystal Palace academy, before kick-off following his £9m move from Wigan. Torres may be the only senior striker on the books, but the attacking reserves this team have built up, albeit at vast expense, are staggering. On that basis alone, it feels inconceivable that Chelsea will finish 25 points from the pinnacle again this term. Instead, and even at this early stage, they feel restored as contenders. – Guardian (UK)