EPL: Smells like title spirit

EPL: Smells like title spirit
Chelsea's Oscar celebrates after scoring a goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge in London, September 27, 2014.

WHILE their title rivals laboured, Chelsea cantered.

Manchester City made a meal of their victory over Hull, but the Blues barely broke sweat last night in their Premier League match.

Gearshifts weren't required to see off the five-man midfield of Aston Villa. Jose Mourinho's men won 3-0 stuck in neutral.

Dejà vu dominates at Stamford Bridge. The locals have been here before. Mourinho's artisans controlled the game. His artists added the flourishes.

Chelsea rarely played particularly well.

None of their performers scaled the heights of peak performance. Perfection was neither offered nor required.

This was not a day for the magicians, but for Mourinho's tried and tested machines. They rolled over Villa.

For Chelsea, this was just too damn easy, as it always used to be. Around Stamford Bridge, this smells like title spirit.

Paul Lambert's men had no chance. After losing rather lamely to Arsenal last week, a similar collapse appeared likely when Chelsea went ahead after seven minutes.

So quick and industrious on the counter-attack, the Blues favoured the diagonal pass behind full-backs from the first whistle.

Their approach paid off when Branislav Ivanovic found Willian on the right.

The Brazilian's snapshot was saved, but he reacted quickly to direct the rebound towards Oscar to sweep home.

To criticise Chelsea for not putting Villa out of their misery by half-time seems ungrateful, but Mourinho's template can be mildly perplexing.

The obvious gulf in quality between the two sides was rarely bridged with swashbuckling enterprise.

A discernible lack of pace still exists through the Blues' spine, from John Terry to Cese Fabregas and Diego Costa's tender hamstrings.

Unless the ball reached Willian and Eden Hazard, Chelsea's pattern of play slowed down enough to allow Villa's midfield to regroup, allowing them just enough time to poach possession and cut off the supply to the Blues' wide men.

Aside from the goals, ironically, Brad Guzan was seldom tested. Chelsea's adoration for Mourinho remains absolute in the stands and with good reason. His players are the only men left unbeaten in English football.

But there is still a sense that Chelsea occasionally play within themselves and are content to plod rather than penetrate when faced with a pitch packed with parked buses.

With Gabriel Agbonlahor providing those rare explosive bursts of pace missing in the home side, Villa were invited to press in the second half, leading to a few scuffed half-chances and a growing restlessness around the Bridge.

When Paul Lambert rued another wasted opportunity at a set-piece, Costa's decisive header seconds later felt like a sickening thud of inevitability.

Chelsea were hanging on to their lead. Aston Villa were in the ascendency. And then the Blues found that pass into that space behind the fullback in the 59th minute.

Willian and Hazard combined neatly on the left to tee-up Cesar Azpilicueta, who pitched his chip perfectly towards the far post.

Costa rose like a kaypoh meerkat before bulleting his header into the top corner. He now has eight goals in seven games; the physical embodiment of Mourinho's relentless quest for cold, ruthless efficiency.

The Spaniard turned provider in the 79th minute, cutting inside from the left before drawing a save from Guzan. Willian picked up a tap-in, a fitting reward for his endeavours.

Without ever stretching themselves, the Blues brushed aside stubborn opponents. Games will be tougher, but Chelsea will get so much better.

Mediocrity was more than enough to see off Villa. Once the Blues find real form, the little horse will be the only one left in the race.

This article was first published on September 28, 2014.
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