Relief. If Tuesday’s result against Valencia could be summarised in one word for a Chelsea fan it would be ‘relief’. On arrival at Stamford Bridge last night I could not envisage an evening so stress-free. Knowing that a score draw would still see us suffer elimination I thought my belly would be dropping right up until the final whistle. However, a calm and disciplined performance saw that the anxiety was lifted quickly for the Chelsea faithful. Granted Cech was called upon to make a few excellent saves throughout the game and Valencia hit the woodwork early on but the level of doubt was nothing in comparison to what was anticipated before the game. And to top it off Genk grabbed an unlikely draw against Bayer Leverkusen to ensure Chelsea topped the group. This on top of the win against Newcastle on Saturday proves how much difference a couple of days can make in the prospects of a manager.
Here are five things we learned from the Blues’ final group game…
There is no reason for Mikel to rejoin the starting XI
Torres won’t be the only one fighting to regain his starting spot. Oriol Romeu put in an impressively confident performance, for a man who is only 20 years old, in the defensive midfield role. It is clear that Chelsea play best with someone in that position but I’m not sure Mikel has ever really completely stamped his authority over it in the way that Makelele did. If Romeu can continue with the same self-assurance he showed tonight, then it may be that Mikel will become surplus to requirements.
AVB is determined to have David Luiz as a permanent part of his 1st XI
With all the criticism that has loomed over Chelsea’s bad run of form, a name that has continued to appear is that of David Luiz. On a night where the scenario of conceding would have spelled massive problems for AVB’s men, he persevered with the same back four and Luiz remained uncharacteristically quiet. Keeping your own player quiet is not something a manager should have to contend with but the Brazilian’s chasing of the ball is often as carefree as a dog chasing a stick. It was not long ago that I was stating my reasons for loving Luiz – and I stand by these - but as I highlighted then, his reckless side was always going to be a disadvantage, which shone through in the shaky period Chelsea experienced. Following the acceptance of Alex’s transfer request it does seem that Villas-Boas is determined to keep Luiz as part of his starting 11, despite the other option of moving Ivanovic into the centre and playing Boswinga at right-back. If the level of control shown tonight remains, then perhaps Villas-Boas’ persistence in choosing Luiz will continue to pay off.
It would be jumping the gun to exclaim “Drogba is back!” but he showed that he still has it in him to illustrate his beastly best.
Didier Drogba must stay
Truly back on his best form Drogba scored two of the three goals and assisted the other. The early goal was the perfect tonic to settle the nerves at the Bridge and then releasing Ramires to convert the second less than 20 minutes later paved the way for enjoyable, rather than anxious, viewing for the remainder of the game. Although he missed the target in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the second half, he made up for it minutes later with the calmest of finishes to completely kill off the match with Chelsea’s third. Of course, he also scored at the weekend but was otherwise anonymous for much of the Newcastle game, what we saw yesterday was Drogba terrorising the Valencia defence and using his strength to boss the front of the Chelsea attack. It would be jumping the gun to exclaim “Drogba is back!” but he certainly showed that he still has it in him to illustrate his beastly best. I very much hope he stays at Stamford Bridge and £50 million man, Fernando Torres, will have to work hard to push Drogba back out of the team.
AVB can be ultra-defensive in more ways than one
With the luck of the other result going Chelsea’s way - tonight could have been an opportunity for Villas-Boas to simply enjoy a good performance from his team and the luxury of going through in top spot. Instead he used it as a “slap in the face” to the media and hit back at the scrutiny his club have endured in previous weeks. It was nice to see passion from AVB and it’s great to see that he wears his heart on his sleeve. However, the criticism we have received has not been unfounded and was generally in response to poor performances. The hit back at the media was visibly an outlet for the young manager’s own relief.
Chelsea can win big games without Frank Lampard – but it’s not the end for him
Frank Lampard looked extremely annoyed to be subbed off early on Saturday and many would have assumed that this was a tactic of saving him for the big Champions League game. I for one was surprised not to see his name on the starting team sheet. I was even more surprised to see Mikel be the midfield replacement in the second half rather than Lampard. This presents an opportunity for many sports writers to gleefully rehash their negative Lampard articles that emerged at the beginning of the season. Yes, we won this game without him. Yes, AVB will eventually have to make way for a completely new breed. But Frank Lampard is not finished - he silenced the critics earlier on in the season in the best fashion possible with a hat-trick away to Bolton. And he will silence them again.
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