Jose Mourinho described the display as Chelsea’s best of the season and spoke of a renewed team spirit after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Tottenham.
Not that Diego Costa looked to have any of that shared togetherness after his petulant afternoon in north London.
The Portuguese boss denied a falling out with Costa, whom he dropped for the first time in his Chelsea career, but Mourinho was undoubtedly making a point, a stance that he is the man at the helm, that he makes the decisions, that he is the man Roman Abramovich has backed, despite their woeful start to the season.
The benched Costa swung his bib over his head with disdain at White Hart Lane, but Mourinho was blissfully unaware as he focused on Chelsea’s disciplined draw.
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) November 29, 2015
Mourinho opted to drop Costa to the bench, and the Spain striker did not seem too impressed. The 27-year-old failed to join in the pre-match warm-up with the rest of his Chelsea team-mates at White Hart Lane – a fact which irked former Spurs gaffer Harry Redknapp, who claimed “there would be murders” if that had happened while he was manager of a club.
Costa’s body language throughout the match was that of a child who had seen their favourite toy confiscated. He then, with full-time approaching, tossed his bib in the direction of Mourinho and refused to show up for the warm down with the rest of the Chelsea subs. But there’s been no major falling out, so we’re led to believe.
Costa has been an almost ever present for Mourinho this season starting 11 games in the league, but he has managed just three goals, while at the same point last term the targetman had scored 12 times.
He did though grab the all-important goal in the 1-0 win against Norwich last weekend, and his omission did come as a surprise on Sunday afternoon, but it was a fully justified one. Mourinho instead opted for Eden Hazard in a false nine position with Oscar, Pedro and Willian the three behind the Belgian playmaker, and Chelsea looked compact and dangerous on the counter-attack, especially in the first 45 minutes.
Hazard revealed last week he had spoken to Mourinho about playing in his preferred No. 10 position prior to the end of Chelsea’s League Cup defence at Stoke City, when Hazard missed the decisive penalty in a shootout. “I said to him: ‘Maybe we have to try to change something. If I can play number 10?’ And we try,” said Hazard. “I played a very good game in the (League) Cup in Stoke. And, (against Norwich), it was the same.
“I just want to be on the pitch. And if I play number 10 or on the flanks it’s not a problem.”
Mourinho obliged and Hazard put in a man-of-the-match display, but over the weekend he revealed he does not fancy Hazard in the No. 10 role on a permanent basis.
“We have different concepts of No. 10. Me and him,” said Mourinho.
So instead he started Hazard as the focal point in attack, and the Belgian almost rewarded the decision with his first goal of the season. The makeshift striker initiated a smart move which ended with him heading over the bar when well placed in the first half and in the second period his brilliantly controlled volley was palmed away by Hugo Lloris.
But that was about the sum total of Chelsea’s attacking, despite threatening on several occasions to break quickly on their hosts. The speed and link-up play between Hazard, Willian, Pedro and Oscar was encouraging – and more like the Chelsea of last season – but Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic again struggled to impress with the ball and in Fabregas’ case the form he showed for his country recently, but Mourinho, who resisted the temptation to introduce Costa as a second-half sub, was more than content.
Spurs, now unbeaten in 13 Premier League games, have been brushing aside their rivals of late and another clean-sheet – their third in succession – will be encouraging for Mourinho as his team begin to show the shoots of recovery. They limited Tottenham to very few sights of goal and were well worth a point on a ground where they were hammered 5-3 last season.
Hazard’s speed of thought and fleet of foot set up the majority of Chelsea’s best attacking assaults, but the compact manner which Chelsea and Hazard pressed Tottenham from the halfway line was impressive. In fact Hazard – criticised by Mourinho for his work rate – dashed back 50 yards to halt a Spurs foray forward in the first half and he set the tone for a disciplined, hardworking team performance.
Without a recognised striker and last season’s 25-goal top scorer Costa, it was a new formation, but it was much more like the strong, spirited and disciplined Chelsea of old.