Date: 7th February 2016 at 8:32pm
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A groan of anguish traversed the global Chelseasphere as the Blues’ line-up for the critical Man United game was revealed.

The Tiresome Twins Matic and Mikel were back in the middle with Oscar – Mr One Game On, One/Two Games Off – bafflingly preferred over the reigning Player of the Year.

Chelsea social media were as near unanimous as they ever get: here was yet another Chelsea team set up not to win but not to lose.

And so things proceeded exactly as expected with Chelsea sitting back for the first half hour, conceding nine – 9! – corners to United with none of their own and attacking ambition set firmly at zero.

Never this season has a Chelsea team been as comprehensively slaughtered 0-0 as in that first 30 minutes.

The usual Chelsea wags were making the usual enquiries as to whether Oscar was playing (the Man U wags saying the same about Rooney to be fair).

In his frustration, Costa increasingly wandered out of position to get the ball – trouble was, time and again he looked up to cross or pass into the penalty area where he himself should have been waiting.

As United eased off the pressure, Fabregas pushed forward and for the first time Chelsea looked like they might make a game of it.

Sadly, the whistle came too early for anything substantive and, as the second half got under way, it was more of the same Red menace.

0n 54 minutes, the predictably invisible Oscar, with about as much appetite for the big occasion as cats have for carrots, was finally replaced by Hazard – 54 minutes too late by the estimation of everybody watching other than the Chelsea caretaker manager.

Immediately, the Reds seemed to take a deep breath, Hazard`s reputation alone requiring a rethink.

But moments later all change again as the brilliant Zouma, who had played the entire game with Rooney nestling harmlessly in his back pocket, came charging forward, landing awkwardly and screaming in pain.

It was a scream that would continue intermittently for the entire five or six minutes it took to put the seriously injured Frenchman on a stretcher and get him off the field.

To those of us seasoned by years of NFL viewing it looked to all the world like a torn ACL, the tendon at the front of the knee.

If so then, tragically, it will keep one of the only unqualified Chelsea successes in this dreadful season out of the game until near enough this time next year.

Fingers crossed it ain`t so and God speed Kurt.

Then, in keeping with this season of seasons, with Rooney finally freed from Zouma`s cage, who but the England skipper would help Borthwick-Jackson`s cross from the Chelsea on to Lingard.

Even from 12 yards, the kid still had a lot to do with his back to goal – but do it he did turning superbly and firing past a helpless Courtois into the top right hand corner.

Could Azplicueta have done better as the blocking defender? Absolutely. But as the man they call Dave showed when he similarly failed to get tight for Mahrez` goal in the defeat at Leicester, admirably energetic and giving he may be but a world class full back he ain`t.

As if Zouma`s fall and United`s subsequent strike wasn`t insult to injury enough, the fact that it should be one of United`s youngsters who applied the dagger was another one in the eye to a gutless Chelsea management that seems determined to spit in the face of our club`s future rather than develop it.

All this intellectualization is all well and good after the fact, but right there and then with half an hour to go, the Chelsea players finally decided enough was enough and simply refused to let things lie.

It was magnificent stuff.

Now, finally, they charged forward at every opportunity Рungainlily, yes, haphazardly, yes, but with enough passion and determination to paper over the personnel cracks Jos̩ Mourinho had identified as far back as last April.

First Ivanovic and then Fabregas forced De Gea to delve into the very top drawer of goal-keeping annals.

Never was a volley struck more truly, sweetly and accurately than Ivanovic`s, only for the United keeper – surely world number one by a country mile – to turn into the superhero he seems to do with monotonous regularity.

Never mind getting a hand to Branna`s volley: what is that hand made of? The adamantine that forms the skeleton of the X-Men`s Wolverine?

So forceful were the wave upon wave of Chelsea attacks now that I found myself posting “Chelsea are going to score” at least five times, the last post moments before the 91st minute when the hapless Borthwick-Jackson intercepted a Fabregas pass to Costa in the box only to push it past De Gea and back into a gleeful Costa`s path the net gaping open.



And you know what? At that moment you wouldn’t have bet against Chelsea winning it, the momentum all theirs.

And in the last of the six minutes added on for Zouma`s tragedy, there it was: the ball at Costa`s feet on the edge of the area, a twist a turn a feint and Smalling was beaten, Costa shoots? and United`s X-Man pushes it wide.

Final whistle.

What a game for the neutral!

And for the Chelsea faithful, hearts full of joy.


Even as the crowd, hearts pumping as if they`d just spent 90 minutes working out, filed out into the Fulham Road, those hearts slowed and the criticism quickened.

How can you expect to win by giving a team of United`s caliber a 30 minute start?

Why would a caretaker manager with nothing to lose not play to win?

Dele Alli, Lingard, every other team`s gilded youth are benefiting from good runs in the first team, why not ours?

And, now that we are so far into the season that every team is what it is and is ever going to be, isn’t this fundamental lack of quality precisely what the Special One foresaw when he asked for new players back in April?

Hours before the game, Mourinho had answered that question as clearly as he could while retaining a semblance of loyalty to the club that had so insanely dumped him.

He finally broke his silence in an interview with Sky Sports:

“If you are a club that wins, if you want to win again you have to create instability in the winners.”

“To do this, you have to make them doubt, you have to buy new players, you have to take them outside their comfort zone.”

“If you win, there is a normal tendency to go to your comfort zone. If you don’t react, if you believe that just because you won in one year that you are going to win again, it`s very difficult.”

The words of a winner, our winner.

Something Chelsea have now failed to do in a single home game in the Premiership since the caretaker`s arrival.

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