Buckets of tears were shed when Chelsea lost strong-armed Serbian Nemanja Matic to a two-match suspension following an unsavoury altercation against Burnley, but the Blues have coped just fine without their midfield lynchpin.
Jose Mourinho’s men recorded wins in both of the games their first-choice holding-midfielder was absent, following up a 2-0 Capital One Cup final success over Tottenham with a 1-0 felling of West Ham as they continued to prosper in the face of the obvious and unashamed conspiracies of the FA.
While Chelsea’s initial reaction following the loss of Matic was one of bed-wetting terror, this pair of flawless victories provides proof the former Benfica destroyer isn’t as essential as he has been billed.
He’ll probably return to the fold when the Premier League pacesetters tackle Paris Saint-Germain next – a match they’re priced at 91/100 to win – but based on recent performances, there’s cause to argue he should be left out and this debate begins with the recalibration of Kurt Zouma.
Mourinho, the pioneer of 19th-century football, must’ve taken great pleasure in cramming a defender into his midfield for the Capital One Cup showpiece, to compliment the back six he already had in place.
Fledgling French centre-back Zouma rarely set foot in the opposition half and this positional discipline further reinforced their rock-solid rearguard, as well as enabling their wingers to counter-attack with an unfamiliar freedom.
Similarly, possibly owing to a lack of ability to do anything else, his insistence on playing the simplest pass possible at absolutely all times meant mainline orchestrator Cesc Fabregas saw plenty of the orb.
Another way in which Zouma’s inclusion enhances the team is it accommodates energetic Brazilian Ramires.
Not just a tireless grafter, the Blue Kenyan is deceptively creative, as four assists in seven Premier League starts will attest, the latest being Eden Hazard’s winner against West Ham.
With Fabregas’ conjuring powers deserting him of late (a subject we touched on in this article), the 27-year-old is the best alternative chance creator and must be included at least until the Spaniard’s mojo is rediscovered.
Another important factor as to why Chelsea must elongate Matic’s period on the sidelines is their players need to be aware of successful fallback strategies for future reference.
The fact that two of their first three defeats of the campaign (against Newcastle and Bradford) came when the Serb wasn’t involved prompted many to believe he was integral to their invincibility.
Such hype seemed to seep into the players’ mindset, but this fear of taking to the field without Matic is sure to be eradicated the more they succeed without him.