Samuel Eto'o delivers as Chelsea see off Cardiff

Posted by Phil Lythell

Chelsea celebrate after Samuel Eto'o fired them into the lead against Cardiff.GettyImagesChelsea celebrate after Samuel Eto'o fired them into the lead against Cardiff City.

After 90 fraught minutes of football at Stamford Bridge Chelsea emerged with a deserved 4-1 over Cardiff City.

In fairness, the scoreline was a little harsh on the visitors who provided game opposition for the majority of the match. They were diligent, organised and hard working and can legitimately point to a moment of questionable officiating for abetting their downfall.

Samuel Eto'o's intervention on Bluebirds goalkeeper David Marshall ensured that Chelsea did not have to dwell on falling behind for too long though it was surprising that referee Anthony Taylor -- who otherwise had an excellent game -- opted to play on after the Cameroonian dispossessed the custodian while he was bouncing the ball.

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Eden Hazard was the lucky recipient of a simple tap in, though by the letter of the law the whistle should have blown in Cardiff's favour. Even so, while the incident will no doubt be debated long and hard by pundits and supporters alike it would be stretching things to label it as a turning point. Chelsea were in the ascendency despite conceding and the signs were there that the setback would have been overcome even without Taylor's poor judgement call.

Chelsea largely maintained control of the game and were full value for the three points even if a certain gloss was added to the result late on with the Blues rewarded for their manager's willingness to risk defeat in the pursuit of victory. With 64 minutes on the clock and the score still at 1-1, Jose Mourinho signalled his intent by withdrawing left-back Ryan Bertrand and introducing Fernando Torres from the bench. Within two minutes his team had broken the deadlock and were on their way to victory.

The shift to a back three with two genuine strikers up front was similar to the policy adopted in the last Premier League match against Norwich, though in both cases it would be hard to assert that it was the change in formation that yielded the right result on each occasion. However, the positive message that it sent to the players and spectators was clear. This was a must-win game. One point is irrelevant. Cardiff City at home means three points, nothing else. For Mourinho, the situation demanded a specific approach but don't expect the same tactic to be employed if, say, Chelsea are drawing 1-1 an hour into next Sunday's clash with Manchester City.

The risk of throwing caution to the wind was highlighted just after Chelsea took the lead with the now narrow defence being exposed by Cardiff shifting the ball quickly from one flank to another, making use of the extra space created by the loss of a full-back. Had the Blues not scored so early after the change perhaps that deficiency would have been exploited, though with the job done Cesar Azpilicueta was duly brought on to fill the void and help protect the lead.

The advantage that Chelsea held came through a moment of class from Eto'o. The 32-year-old has cut a jaded and rusty figure since joining the club, but against Cardiff he put in his most impressive performance to date. His movement across the back line allowed him to drift out of the eye-line of the attendant centre-backs and he was always an outlet for Hazard, Willian and Juan Mata behind him. He held up the ball with a solidity normally associated with a greater physical specimen and his link-up play with the attacking midfielders was virtually flawless.

As the game wore on there was a concern that Eto'o's tireless running in the channels would cost him the chance of getting on the end of intelligent moves, though he finally got his reward with a clinically taken goal to put his team in the box seat. He should have already been on the scoresheet when he dithered instead of shooting in the first half though he can console himself with the fact that Hazard eventually turned home the equaliser and that it was his persistence -- legal or not -- that initially created the opportunity.

That Cardiff were in the lead in the first place was due to one of several moments that David Luiz will not look back on too fondly. The Brazilian has developed into a dependable defender over the last 12 months, but he was guilty of a shocking piece of complacency when he allowed Jordan Mutch to open the scoring. Luiz has racked up the air miles with his national team over the last week having played friendlies in Seoul and Beijing since he was last with his club and his lethargy was apparent when giving the ball away cheaply or being caught on the wrong side of the defender. That he did not receive a second yellow card can be put down to the demonstrable efforts of his manager who was practically on the pitch exhorting his player not to dive in on yet another occasion when he was caught out of position.

Even with Luiz having one of his hair-brained outings, Chelsea were still good enough to win relatively comfortably but with a must-not-lose Champions League game at Schalke in midweek the standard will need to be raised.


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