The magic number for Chelsea is now sixteen a that is the number of points they need from a possible twenty-four to be crowned league champions for the first time since 2009-2010. Saturdaya s performance was not, by any stretch, the best we have seen from Jose Mourinhoa s side this season, but it was an improvement from the defensively shaky performances that have marked the month of March for the league leaders. In a match where Stoke City did precious little to trouble Chelseaa s defence, Charlie Adam scored a goal for the ages to put the Blues under real pressure in the second half. Mourinho will be pleased however, that unlike his teama s last home performance, this time the Blues were able to find a way to snatch all three points.
Here are three takeaways from an intriguing battle at the Bridge:
Hazarda s transition from world class talent to world class footballer is near completion
Eden Hazard has been in magnificent form for Chelsea this season, and as such, is a real contender for the PFA Player of the Year award. What Mourinho will be most pleased with, however, is the Belgiana s progress this season in comparison to 2013-2014. Last season, the Bluesa boss questioned Hazarda s willingness to make sacrifices for the team after their Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid, and declared that he wanted a more ambition and more responsibilitya from the Chelsea no.10.
Saturdaya s game against Stoke City was just the latest in a long list of games this season where Eden Hazard has shown just that a ambition and responsibility. The former Lille man was a constant thorn in Mark Hughesa side: taking on defenders in the attacking third and testing Asmir Begovic on several occasions, making runs in behind Stokea s defensive lines to receive the ball, playing clever, incisive passes to the feet of Loic Remy and later, Didier Drogba, and above all, being the difference between the two sides on the day a as he was against Hull City in the Bluesa previous fixture.
The most remarkable aspect of Hazarda s season, however, has been his consistency. Unlike previous seasons where the Belgian has had patches of ineffectiveness and lethargic displays, he has been superb right from Chelseaa s first game of this season against Burnley at Turf Moor. There have been games where he has been quiet, as is the case with every player, but they have been few and far between. Given his consistency despite the loss in form of Cesc Fabregas amongst several others in the Chelsea side, and his performances of late, it seems as though Hazard is finally willing to accept the responsibility that comes with his exceptional talent. If he can maintain this level for the remainder of the season, and indeed in future seasons, Chelsea will continue to be successful.
Hazard is no more merely a world class talent a he is now a bona fide world class footballer.
Oscara s form should be a worry for Chelsea
In contrast to Hazard, Oscar has had an underwhelming season. Yet again, the Brazilian has been unable to maintain his level throughout the season, and yet again, a promising start to the season appears to be fizzling out at the business end. If a list were to be made of the players that divide opinion amongst Chelsea fans, Oscara s name would be very close to the top. Whilst some appreciate the work he does for the team from a defensive point of view, others expect more end-product from a central attacking midfielder. The truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in between.
After being hauled off at the 45-minute mark yet again this season, Mourinho said of Oscara s performance, a I dona t think he had a bad performance, I just think he wasna t good enough.a Blunt, perhaps, but an accurate assessment nonetheless. That Oscar has talent is not in question a the goal he scored against Queensa Park Rangers this season is testament to that a but it is also undebatable that he should be doing far better for a man of his ability. The Brazilian offers his team a lot defensively, pressing intelligently and effectively from the front and making tackles in the opposition half, but does not provide (not nearly often enough) the creativity and attacking spark needed to break down a packed defence. In that sense, he is a unique no.10 a one that can be, at times, the best player on the pitch, but one that is prone to having games where he is entirely ineffective.
Like Hazard, Oscar needs to find the right balance between his defensive responsibilities and his attacking ones, and needs to play at a consistently good level for the majority of the season. Even though Mourinho chose him as his no.10 over Juan Mata, it is worth noting that the Brazilian is often absent from the line-up in Chelseaa s biggest matches, particularly away from home, with Mourinho often preferring a 4-3-3 with Ramires, Fabregas and Nemanja Matic in the centre. As such, it seems as though Oscar is the asset that Mourinho and the club are most likely to sell to fund a move for a central midfielder (Pogba, Koke amongst the names being linked with the club), with a potential shift to a permanent 4-3-3 a the formation that has brought Chelsea so much success over the years, particularly under Mourinho himself.
Oscar is walking on thin ice as far as his Chelsea future is concerned, and the last few games of the season might well be an indication of Mourinhoa s plans for the Brazilian this summer.
Loic Remy proving his worth to Mourinho and Chelsea
Loic Remy, by Jose Mourinhoa s own admission, has not received the game time that he has deserved this season at Chelsea. However, two game-winning goals in as many games for the club over the past fortnight have highlighted his importance to the team. The Frenchman was at hand once again to tap in the winning goal against Stoke City on Saturday, meaning he now has five goals in just four starts at the club a and the best minutes to goal ratio of any player in the squad.
Diego Costaa s injury history and propensity to get involved in situations that might result in suspensions mean that Chelsea require a quality second striker in their squad. Didier Drogba, for all his qualities, and despite being second choice for a good part of this season, is showing clear signs of decline, and as such, is not the cluba s best back-up to Costa any longer. It has become increasingly evident that Loic Remy must start games for which Costa is unavailable, and Mourinho seems to have recognised as much.
With Costa certain to miss games against QPR and Manchester United, and potentially even Arsenal, Remy has the opportunity to play a crucial role in a season-defining period for the Blues. If his current goal-scoring form is anything to go by, Chelsea will get ever closer to yet another Premier League crown.