Chelsea have been linked with big-money signings this January, but Rob Conlon suggests Guus Hiddink’s best trick will be continuing the resurgence of two of their current stars.
‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’ is a well-worn football cliche, and has often proved to be untrue. However, it has rarely felt as apt as while watching Chelsea canter to a 3-0 victory at Premier League high-flyers Crystal Palace, and in particular, the performances of two players that only a couple of weeks ago were branded “rats” by some Blues fans.
Both Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas produced the type of display which they put in week in, week out during the first half of last season, as Chelsea all but wrapped up the Premier League by Christmas.
The Spanish duo were highlighted, alongside Eden Hazard, by supporters for not performing to their capabilities under Jose Mourinho – ultimately costing the ‘Special One’ his job. The suggestions were it was a personal vendetta against the Portuguese, who departed with the reigning champions languishing only one point above the relegation zone.
Sadly, such performances as the ones put in at Selhurst Park will only add fuel to that particular fire, but at least the Premier League seemingly has two of its best talents back on song.
Early on Chelsea looked slightly nervous. Simple passes were being misplaced. Palace players were winning 50-50 challenges. Eden Hazard departed with a similar injury to the one he suffered in Mourinho’s final match – the defeat at Leicester City.
The bullish Costa was twice clattered by Eagles’ centre-half Damien Delaney but looked almost sheepish, failing to retaliate on either occasion.
As things transpired it became apparent the striker hadn’t lost the fire in his belly but was simply putting it to better use.
Just before the half-hour mark, Fabregas played a pass through the eye-of-the-needle to put Costa through with only goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to beat. The 27-year-old has looked far from comfortable in front of goal this season, but here he kept his cool and squared the ball to Oscar, leaving the Brazilian with a simple finish.
From thereon the Blues bossed proceedings. And while Willian – undoubtedly Chelsea’s man of the moment – will take most of the plaudits for his wonder strike, Costa’s composed physicality – which was deservedly rewarded with a goal – and Fabregas’s class laid the platform for their first win away from home in the Premier League since August.
Former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Fabregas has arguably come in for more criticism than any other Chelsea player this season, and has recently been linked with an escape to Serie A.
And yet he was irrepressible next to John Obi Mikel in the centre of the park, conducting the Chelsea orchestra, dictating the tempo and constantly shifting the direction of the ball, forcing Palace to chase shadows when they opted to press.
The 28-year-old made 102 passes at Selhurst Park, many of which were sumptuous and with his first touch. In contrast, the hosts’ central midfielders, James McArthur, Mile Jedinak and substitute Joe Ledley made only 98 between them.
What was also striking about Fabregas’ display was that he did not shirk any defensive responsibility – especially in the first half when the hosts were more of a threat. So often he has been lambasted for this side to his game, but here he played almost as a box-to-box midfielder – albeit the most languid one in the history of the game.
Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Jackson Martinez have all been linked with moves to Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window. If Guus Hiddink is to continue Chelsea’s resurgence, the Dutchman might be better off making the most of the undoubted quality at his disposal. His next challenge will be Eden Hazard.