Hazard wizardry gives Chelsea perfect start

Posted by Phil Lythell

As opening weekends go, it could not have been much better for Chelsea. With all our traditional rivals dropping points, with the exception of Manchester City, the 2-0 win at Wigan already looks valuable.

The importance of getting off to a good start cannot be overstated as it lays the bedrock of confidence upon which future prosperity can be built and beating Wigan – the form team in the Premier League towards the end of last season – should not be taken for granted. Indeed, a draw was all that was garnered by Chelsea in this same fixture last season while only some poor officiating ensured all three points went to the Blues when the teams met at Stamford Bridge in April. The relatively comfortable nature of victory at the DW Stadium on Sunday was a step in the right direction.

Another step can be taken on Wednesday when Chelsea host Reading in the first home match of the season. A win would see us move six points ahead of Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool while putting us 5 points in front of Arsenal, albeit having played a game more than all four of those teams. Even though the extra match will be accounted for when Chelsea sit out a Premier League weekend when they face Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup at the end of the month, the psychological advantage of placing other teams in pursuit could cause teams to stutter early on in their campaign especially with new signings still adapting to their novel surroundings.

Returning to events on Sunday and it was clear that the most encouraging aspect of the match was the performance of Eden Hazard. After a scratchy display in the Community Shield, the young Belgian took the bull by the horns from the kick off to serve notice of his tremendous ability. The control and spin for the first goal exhibited his balletic balance and peripheral vision. The subsequent pass was perfectly weighted for Branislav Ivanovic. His willingness to take on players was the root of the second goal and is something that the team has missed since the days of Arjen Robben and - to a lesser extent - Joe Cole. It cannot be ignored that the defending in each incident was certainly poor but it was gratifying to see Hazard exploit the errors with utter ruthlessness nonetheless.

The cameo of our new £25 million Brazlian, Oscar, was also highly enjoyable. As many have pointed out, his slight physical nature might need some bolstering but his speed and touch look like they will become vital assets to the team. The first of those attributes almost got him on the scoresheet following a neat interchange with Fernando Torres while the second provided a divine lob for Ivanovic whose square ball just failed to pick out Torres on the penalty spot.

The increasing array of creative talents bodes well for the Spanish striker. Although he was restricted to just a couple of sightings of goal, the initial framework of understanding between the providers and the finisher looks to be taking shape. Should the bonds grow stronger, Torres should not fail to flourish.

One concerning aspect though was the below-par performance from Juan Mata. It looks clear that the playmaker is suffering from fatigue having been an ever-present in his first season in England, extending his campaign with international duty at Euro 2012 and the Olympics. Di Matteo has already indicated that he would try to find Mata a period in which to rest, something that will be vital if he is to repeat the sterling contribution of last season.

The arrivals of Hazard and Oscar means that the creative burden now no longer falls upon Mata's shoulders alone and that responsibility might be alleviated further should the deal for Victor Moses be tied up before the end of August. Given the chance to audition against his prospective employers, the former Crystal Palace starlet put in an excellent performance and was Wigan's most dangerous player by some distance. In the second half he was the best player on the pitch for either side and would be a welcome addition to the Chelsea squad.

Despite the obvious focus on the exciting new blood and future acquisitions, it is interesting to note that Chelsea have not abandoned their old values of dogged determination and no-nonsense defending. While the temptation to pour forward in search of more and more goals must have been almost overwhelming after such an excellent start to the match, it was good to see common sense being employed to ensure Wigan were not gifted an opportunity to get back into the game. The defence stayed resolute and John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard were constantly snapping at opposition heels; their discipline allowing the fleeter of foot in front of them to flow forward.

The blend of old and new is certainly an encouraging mix. A win over Reading is now top of the agenda for the men in blue.

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