In every department they were better – and not just in a comparison with their hosts Burnley on Monday night. When weighed up against every other team that will, we assume, run the race for the Premier League title, Chelsea were head and shoulders better than their counterparts.
Chelsea waltzed their way to a first-half 3-1 lead. How many times have we been able to describe Chelsea’s play as elegant in the past? The chief architect was Cesc Fabregas, the player who was labelled so un-Mourinho-like that it was thought he’d fail to make any sort of impression in the Portuguese coach’s direct style.
But Fabregas was simply sensational. From the off, the Spaniard always looked to make himself available; there were no niceties to be had in finding a home amid midfield talents like Oscar and Eden Hazard. Fabregas wasted no time in becoming the hub of this Chelsea team.
Diego Costa had a good game in his first competitive outing for his new side. He too got off and running quickly, opening his account for Chelsea with their first goal. He was later denied a penalty by referee Michael Oliver when through on goal. It may not be too wide of the mark to assume the official had gotten himself up to speed with the striker’s reputation in Spain. On this occasion, however, he was wrong and should have awarded a spot kick.
At the other end, Thibaut Courtois was at his confident best. There was little he could have done about Burnley’s goal, seeing the shot from Scott Arfield late. But the rest of his performance, including a fine second-half save from Arfield, only went on to further strengthen the general agreement in European football that this is one of the game’s absolute best.
It may only have been Burnley; indeed, Chelsea’s opener was undoubtedly the easiest tie they could have asked for and much more straightforward than what their title rivals were up against over the weekend.
But Mourinho’s team swept aside their start-of-season challenge with such confidence that it’s a struggle not to label them as title favourites, even as early on as this.
In addition to that, it’s difficult not to get carried away by the performance of Cesc Fabregas and what he can further provide this team. He finished the game with two assists, the first a stunning half-volley through-pass to Andre Schurrle that stunned the Burnley back line into submission, such was its brilliance. The second, far more straightforward in its delivery from a corner, but they all count.
It was Fabregas’ overall quality in distribution and creativity that will help to set this Chelsea team apart. They’ve added the centre-forward they needed, Nemanja Matic is an outstanding destroyer in the midfield, and the defence couldn’t possibly be more complete. But the team have lacked ingenuity and ornamentation.
Where Fabregas was on the peripheries of the team at Barcelona, struggling to make a name for himself in a side congested with attacking splendour, he’s immediately found a home back in the Premier League. No confusion here: Fabregas’ early performance is an indicator that he’s set to be the on-pitch mastermind of a team that can combine power with the sublime.
During their 3-1 win it became obvious: Chelsea very much look like a good team that have gone up a few gears from where they were last season. It’s what happens when a good side add the components they need. They’re no longer just good, in a conversation as one of the best in the Premier League. Chelsea now look fearsome.