Chelsea fans and, particularly, Jose Mourinho fans, can breathe.
Despite their poor run of form this season, on Wednesday, Chelsea managed a vintage performance against Porto, which granted them a victory that saw them through to the next round in the Champions League.
Chelsea counted with a bit of luck in the first half, particularly as Porto center-back Iván Marcano scored an own goal that opened the scoring in their favor. Later, in the second half, a well-placed shot by Willian sealed the definitive 2-0 score line.
“In the Premier League everything seems to go against us but today was a very important result for the players and for the club. This result is the minimum we can give to the supporters,” Mourinho told reporters after the match.
But beyond the marks on the scoreboard, Chelsea fans will be pleased with the improvement they saw from their team. Without looking brilliant, Chelsea appeared solid in defense and, above all, competitive – a quality that has been missing from their matches throughout most of the season.
One of the improved areas of the team was the striker zone – especially, Diego Costa. The striker’s movements looked much sharper during Chelsea’s offensive plays, and his runs behind the opposition’s backline were a constant threat throughout the game.
Costa’s night was surely undermined by his lack of precision in front of goal: inside the opponent’s box, his touch and his finishing weren’t great. Yet the sheer influence of his movements got his teammates going and created chances. He had an important role in both goals – shooting the ball that sparked Marcano’s own goal, and later starting the play that led to Willian’s finish.
In fact, the effect of Costa’s individual performance marks an important trend for Chelsea during the Porto game: the team’s improvement, for the most part, did not come from changes in Chelsea’s system, but rather from better-looking individual performances.
“[The players ]were really committed to getting a result as much for their pride as anything, especially playing at home after the Bournemouth defeat,” Mourinho said. “They were compact, always showing initiative and not afraid to take risks.”
With the exception, perhaps, of Willian, most of Chelsea’s player have had an abysmal season from an individual-performance point of view. However, a few players such as Costa, Zouma and Hazard stepped-up their game against Porto, and it clearly paid off.
The most important individual performance, perhaps, might have been that of Nemanja Matic. Despite an extremely choppy start to the season, the Serbian looked supremely sharp in central midfield on Wednesday, both in defensive and in creative duties.
Though he was paired up with the erratic Ramires, Matic did an outstanding job of keeping his position – a task that he had much trouble with throughout the season. Dropping near the center-backs to provide extra cover, and to receive the ball in possession, he began to look like his 2014/15 self.
Putting in seven tackles and completing 43 passes (more than any other player in his team, and nearly twice as Oscar), Matic returned a sense of balance to Chelsea. Perhaps that was one of the main factors behind the improvements some of the other players showed, as the Serbian gave them a sense of control, they began to take some of it on their own.
After all, Chelsea know that they count with a squad and manager that have proven track-records, so raw talent is probably not their main problem. The key to getting the team going might have more to do with the squad’s mentality — they need sensations, confidence wins.
As put by eternal captain, John Terry: “The fans needed that [win] and so did the players… In the league we’ve maybe been lacking a bit of confidence but in the Champions League it’s been different. There will be a lot of teams fearing us and we’ll see what comes our way on Monday.“
With the result, The Blues secured a first place finish in Group G, which means they will face-off in the round of 16 against one of the teams from the second place seeder. Amongst its possible rivals are Arsenal, Juventus, Roma and Paris Saint-Germain.