Chelsea win in style
SCHALKE 04 0
(John Terry 2, Willian 29, Jan Kirchhhoff 44 og, Didier Drogba 76, Ramires 78)
Chelsea are shifting up through the gears.
We already knew that they were a very good team.
Now they are looking like a great one. In the space of 18 months, Jose Mourinho has taken something that was chaotic and inconsistent, and refined it into something special.
Schalke were crushed in front of their own fans in this Group G match, destroyed by five clear goals and it could easily have been more. There is no limit to what Chelsea can achieve this season.
Goals from John Terry, Willian, Didier Drogba, Ramires and an own goal from Jan Kirchhoff blew the German side away and left their manager Roberto Di Matteo humiliated on the touchline.
If he had been hoping for a happy reunion with his former club, he was very much mistaken. Chelsea don't do sentiment. They do winning and now they're doing it in style.
Few Premier League teams have ever looked this balanced. From front to back, every department works in unison. Thibaut Courtois has settled instantly, suffering none of the acclimatisation issues that traditionally dog goalkeepers in their first season in England.
Terry, with a manager who recognises his limitations and plays to his strengths, looks indomitable again and has a perfect understanding with Gary Cahill.
When Chelsea defend, watch the heads of their defenders. They are always looking, always communicating and, more often than not, they are encouraging each other.
Compare and contrast with, for example, Liverpool.
Schalke made a handful of chances, but the closest they came to scoring was when Eric Choupo-Moting's shot took a wicked deflection off Cahill and onto the crossbar.
In midfield, there is a blend of silk and steel. Nemanja Matic does the running, pounding the turf to fill spaces, block runs and make tackles.
When he gets the ball, he moves it on, usually to Cesc Fabregas or Oscar, two men who can split any defence in the world. Out wide, Eden Hazard and Willian offer pace and trickery, but increasingly they bring responsibility too.
The days of catching Chelsea out on the break by exploiting the gaps behind the wingers are fading into the past.
Schalke couldn't cope with Chelsea's passing and their movement.
It was bad enough in the first half when the game was still alive, but when Chelsea took control, their heads began to drop. They made mistakes with increasing frequency.
A sudden flurry of goals in the second half could easily have turned into a blizzard.
The only surprise was that none came from striker Diego Costa, a slip costing him dearly when Schalke played a suicidal backpass straight to his feet. His overall contribution, however, cannot be questioned.
Mourinho was criticised 10 years ago for creating what some people believed was a prosaic, unspectacular Chelsea with Roman Abramovich's millions. They were never really that bad. In the 2005/06 season, for instance, he won 20 of his first 22 league games, scoring 48 goals in the process.
Nevertheless, it wasn't until Carlo Ancelotti's Double-winning side of 2010 that Chelsea could be described as vibrant and exciting. But speak to anyone who watched this or the first half of their victory over West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, and you'll find a growing feeling that this team are even better.
Di Matteo, of course won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012, but Mourinho's team are far, far superior to that unit.
Di Matteo's place in the club's history is secure, but that triumph was a freakish demonstration of human resilience allied to extraordinary good fortune. It was not indicative of a great team.
Mourinho's side have it within them to be great. Typically, Mourinho isn't having any of that just yet.
"At this moment," he said afterwards, "zero titles. We have to try and win things so this team goes down in Chelsea's history as a brilliant team who won something."
On this evidence, it won't be very long before they do.
- Sporting Lisbon 3 Maribor 1