Stick to the young guns, Mourinho
Mourinho must stick to young guns against Arsenal
(Willian 15, Oscar 45+4-pen, Diego Costa 58, Cesc Fabregas 78)
MACCABI TEL AVIV 0
The hard truth must hurt John Terry and his weary band of bruised brothers.
Chelsea are no club for old and out-of-form men.
Even allowing for Maccabi Tel Aviv's limited opposition, the Blues' opening Champions League cruise steered the ship towards calmer waters.
The next stop is Arsenal tomorrow and Arsene Wenger must be wary of the pace and improvisation of Chelsea's irrepressible youth.
The Blues' 4-0 scoreline yesterday morning (Singapore time) did not quite reflect the home side's dominance, as a potential banana skin wasn't so much sidestepped as it was booted out of Stamford Bridge.
The kids are not only all right, they are ready for right now.
As expected, Jose Mourinho dropped most of his hapless household names in favour of promising potential and perhaps stumbled upon something close to his best 11.
Kurt Zouma was an obvious upgrade on John Terry.
Baba Rahman allowed Cesar Azpilicueta to slot into his natural right-back position, giving Branislav Ivanovic the night off after a number of unnatural performances.
Oscar's return from injury added an attacking impetus previously missing and Ruben Loftus-Cheek was little short of a revelation.
The 19-year-old started alongside Cesc Fabregas in the holding role usually occupied by the exhausted Nemanja Matic and ended the game in a No. 10 role. He elevated both positions.
Loftus-Cheek displayed a degree of maturity that defied his birth certificate but complimented his rugged physique.
He's a hard man to knock, physically or mentally, and presents his manager with a welcome dilemma.
Mourinho, an inherently cautious coach, should hand the keys to central midfield to a 19-year-old against Arsenal. Such a move instinctively goes against the conservative grain.
The Gunners are not Maccabi Tel Aviv (even if they did a decent impression in the Champions League yesterday morning).
But they aren't the quickest in those blurred lines between the last midfielder and the back four, either.
That opens the door for a man who removed both ball and chain against Maccabi, picking up a goal and an assist to exorcise early-season demons.
Fabregas escaped from his temporary wilderness with an easy tap-in and an exquisite cross for Diego Costa's hooked volley for a real Groundhog Day goal.
A Costa finish, a floated Fabregas assist over a retreating defence was a typical day at the office last season, but it's the first of the current campaign. The move was made on the pitch, but born on Mourinho's team sheet.
With the back four bolstered and Loftus-Cheek imperious around the centre circle, Fabregas glided like a swan into the final third rather than an ugly duckling stuck in the midfield quagmire.
How Matic must have seethed at the irony.
After a tiring title quest, he found himself plunged between an ageing defence suffering a crisis of confidence and a Spanish colleague lost in an identity crisis.
Lumbered with a dreadful hand, Matic never knew whether to stick or twist and inevitably folded like a cheap deckchair.
What he needed - a fortified defence and adequate midfield cover - was granted not to him, but to Fabregas, who revelled in the new-found freedom.
But Matic should still return against Arsenal.
Willian's unfortunate injury leaves a vacancy in the front free for Fabregas, with Matic joining Loftus-Cheek in midfield.
Last season, Arsene Wenger's late discovery of Francis Coquelin saved Arsenal's campaign. Loftus-Cheek could repeat the trick for Chelsea.
Even Costa swopped petulance for end product. Aside from his outstanding goal, he chased the ball rather than opponents.
His delightful telepathy with Fabregas felt like the restart of a beautiful friendship.
On a night of silver linings, however, the cloud of uncertainty remains over a gloomy Eden Hazard.
Apart from an early contender for worst penalty of the season, he meandered somewhere between peripheral and anonymous.
Despite the powerful, quick presence of Loftus-Cheek and Rahman behind him, the Belgian again failed to make an impact against Group G's training cones.
Dropping Matic, Terry, Costa and Ivanovic against Maccabi was bold, but dropping Hazard against Arsenal is a different kind of calculated risk altogether.
On current form, Hazard warrants a rest.
His pedigree and recent resume make such a move unlikely, but another poor showing against Arsenal may leave Mourinho with little choice.
As for Terry and Ivanovic, and Ramires to a lesser extent, their younger, dynamic deputies staked a strong claim for selection. They are ready to face down the Gunners.
But the culling won't be easy. Chelsea's skipper isn't just a footballer. He's one of Mourinho's oldest friends.
But no one needs to tell the uncompromising manager where nice guys usually finish.
NO MORE CAPTAIN TERRY-FIC?
Blues skipper reduced to an unused substitute
What Steven Gerrard says: “There’s certainly a bit of friction behind the scenes because for me, you play John Terry week in, week out, he’s your captain... if Chelsea want to be successful this season, they need him in there.”
What Jose Mourinho says: “Steven is wrong. I have a very good relationship with him. Sometimes, we contact by SMS (text message). But he’s wrong, because we have no problems.”