The dust has settled on a surprisingly one sided West London derby as Chelsea inch slightly closer towards their goal of finishing within the top four. I hate the fact that I resemble an Arsenal fan with that opening gambit, but sadly the pursuit of trophies has now been replaced by the pursuit of revenue. A top four finish is deemed a successful season and the preservation of the status quo seen as ‘doing enough’. I, perhaps dwelling in quite a small number, would love Chelsea to win the Europa League while aiming for a top four finish. However, the majority would simply accept a top four finish and the Interim One’s swift departure in the summer. Preferably with a humongous Special sized boot onto the next plane to Liverpool. We can but dream.
It is not beyond this Chelsea side to achieve both. Ask any match going fan and the thought of a European final in Amsterdam is about as salivating a prospect as it gets. I would love to think that there is a distinct possibility of a top four finish and a trophy this season. Ultimately this will boil down to Benitez’s squad management. Chelsea’s remaining fixtures are particularly difficult and there will not be an opportunity to truly rest the likes of Mata and Hazard. Does he therefore rest them in the two Europa League games? Or does he as recent selections intimate, use his better players in the Europa League and play the fringe members in the League? Two big questions which hopefully do not need to raise their heads again after the debacle of the Southampton game.
The game itself was fairly even for much of the first half and was treading a familiar path of previous stalemates between the two sides. Then, around the thirty minute mark, David Luiz stepped forward from defence and into midfield. What followed this typically Luiz piece of play, for those who have not managed to see, was something quite special.
Before describing one of the goals of the season it is probably worthwhile to bring things back a little: to look at the development of David Luiz as a footballer over the course of this season. Often heralded by increasingly lazy football analysts as a liability, Luiz has developed into a world class centre back. I would urge you to dismiss the ridiculous Match of the Day perception and hop more on the recent Gary Neville bandwagon.
Neville famously stated that Luiz resembled someone being controlled by a kid with a PlayStation controller. Yet, after last nights televised action he made the point to state that over the past couple of months (most of the season in fact) Luiz had been exceptional. He highlighted his burgeoning leadership role within the squad and his increasingly consistent displays. Yes, there is still the odd moment when Captain Crazy resurfaces but those are becoming few and far between. It seems Chelsea’s rather expensive investment is beginning to look like he is worth every penny. He is the natural successor to John Terry as club captain.
Back to the strike itself – this really could do with its own article. For those fortunate enough to have season tickets at Chelsea the fact Luiz has an excellent shot will be of no surprise. His technique and finishing ability are extraordinary, although this does not always translate to every free-kick he takes. Before every game Chelsea partake in a shooting exercise – the ball is laid into Zenden (ah, yes, he does do something) who then sets the ball off on the edge of the area. Luiz will score the majority of the time and impressively hits the top corners with ease. I am not sure whether it is good or bad that your centre back looks the best finisher in the team.
Before I digress too far in effusive praise I shall attempt to do Luiz’s goal some justice. With very little on ahead of him the Brazilian centre back collects the ball 30-35 yards out and absolutely boshes it (I could not think of a more Luiz appropriate adverb) towards goal. The ball dips, swerves and rifles into the back of the net before anyone could utter the words “he’s not having a shot, surely?” It was a typical moment of Luiz brilliance that captured everything about him as a player. If Chelsea find a world class partner for him, someone in the more agile and sweeping mould, he could actually kick on further and become the dominant centre back in the world.
The rest of the game was a damp squib with JT overtaking Iniesta in the career goal stakes – tiki taka who? The “nasty Chelsea fans” who were described on Twitter as “the least pleasant away fans” (I thought we were plastic and decidedly middle class?) used the rest of the game to take the mick out of poor old Fulham. A particular chant of “you’ve got a nonce for a statue” was certainly apt and broke the mould of Sloop John B banalities. A strangely routine win at a time that we needed it the most: it feels odd saying that.
A trip to Anfield awaits this weekend as the nauseating prospect of Benitez returning to his people becomes reality. Those loyal Liverpool fans, (Roy out!/Brendan out!/burn shirts!), will no doubt greet their returning hero like a long lost friend. Brendan Rogers will sit there squirming in his bo**ocks spouting hot seat talking about seven-and-a-half-divided-by-three-carry-the-two-holding-centre-backs. Hopefully it is another three points on the board and another long running hoodoo overturned.