By Chelsea correspondent Tony Hughes
Thibaut Courtois shows again why Petr Cech has no future at Stamford Bridge, Oscar has been out of sync for too long and Ronald Koeman is as good a tactician as any in the Premier League
Courtois shows he is a level above Cech
Thibaut Courtois has barely put a foot, or hand wrong, during a debut Chelsea campaign that has fully justified manager Jose Mourinho installing the giant Belgian as his No1 last August. With the defence in front of him every bit as nervy as they were against PSG in midweek, Courtois had to be on top of his game to deny a Southampton team who tore the home side apart in the first half. The goalkeeper made three excellent saves in the opening period as John Terry and company struggled to deal with the mobility and cleverness of Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane. Cech has looked solid as ever when filling in for Courtois this season but only the Czech international’s closest allies would deny that his younger colleague is now a level above the man who has given a decade of such outstanding service to the Londoners.
Jose Mourinho will lift the Premier League trophy but he needs to shake up team
Chelsea did not get the home victory they would have expected but ended the day in a stronger position than which they started it. With a six-point advantage over second-placed Manchester City and a game in hand, it would take a stumble of Devon Loch proportions for such a thoroughbred team not to ease to victory in the final furlongs of the campaign. Chelsea’s name can be pencilled in on the Premier League trophy but the senior squad needs refurbishing over the summer. Jose Mourinho has picked virtually the same team twice a week, swerved the modern trend for rotation of his starting X1 and avoided ringing the changes from the substitutes’ bench when his side has been below par. The result is that the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Oscar and Gary Cahill look like they are running on empty. To sustain a challenge on all fronts next season, Mourinho needs more proven options available to him.
Eden Hazard has been Chelsea’s player of the season
Diego Costa got back on the scoresheet after making more headlines in recent months for his exploration of the dark arts than hitting the back of the net. But the striker’s form has undoubtedly dipped since his autumn high point, along with that of Cesc Fabregas, the man who has created so many of his goals. Over the course of the campaign, it is Eden Hazard who has probably been Chelsea’s standout player, just edging those defensive beacons of consistency John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. Hazard still does not get the goals to match his creative brilliance but he is always Chelsea’s go-to man when they need a moment of magic. After a quiet first half, he sparkled in the second period against Southampton, shimmering with menace and sending the visitors into a panic every time the ball arrived at those majestic feet. He also has staying power. Like Terry and Ivanovic, the Belgian maestro has started all 28 of Chelsea’s Premier League matches.
Oscar has been off the boil for too long
What has happened to Oscar? It is a question Chelsea fans have been asking for an age. Once again, he looked off the boil against Southampton, drifting in and out of the game, forever on its periphery. The feeling persists that Oscar is a fair weather player, both metaphorically and literally. Last season, Jose Mourinho said only half in jest that the Brazilian wasn’t at his best when the mercury dipped. Three seasons in west London have demonstrated more than a little the truth in those comments. When the sun is shining and the team is playing fluently, Oscar looks a million dollars. When conditions and the opposition are more taxing, Oscar tends to go missing. Should Chelsea be made a £30million-plus offer for the No8 this summer, the temptation to cash in could prove too much to resist.
Koeman is a master tactician
Ronald Koeman has had an impressive debut campaign in the English top flight and showed once again that he does not bow to any Premier League manager when it comes to tactics and in-game management. Aware of Chelsea’s lack of pace at the back, he dropped leading scorer Graziano Pelle to the bench and instead preferred the greater mobility and thrust of Sadio Mane and Shane Long up front. The decision paid dividends, particularly in the opening period, when only the giant presence of Thibaut Courtois prevented greater reward for the lively visitors. Koeman has taken the baton almost seamlessly from Mauricio Pochettino at St Mary’s Stadium and the chief problem for the club is that they could become a victim of their success should more attractive managerial posts become available in the summer.