“I don’t want to say we won, Man United lost – that’s not the point. It’s a moment for Pedro to enjoy a different step.”
As Jose Mourinho himself is likely aware, it very much was ‘the point’. He may have been eager to play down such claims in the aftermath of securing the signature of Pedro in midweek, but this was as much a victory for Chelsea as it was a defeat for Manchester United.
As it turned out, it precipitated a second huge win of yet another difficult week for the champions. One point from their opening two games represented Chelsea’s worst start to a Premier League season in 17 years, with controversy surrounding the club’s medical team casting a dark early shadow over their title defence.
The form of John Terry – and, frankly, the rest of the side – filled that particular void this week after the humiliating defeat to Manchester City. By whatever means necessary, a victory over West Brom at the Hawthorns was required.
Not only was it the scene of their 3-0 reverse last season having just been crowned; it was an opponent which they hadn’t beaten away since 2011, with Tony Pulis vying to become the first manager to defeat Mourinho in three Premier League meetings.
It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but then that wasn’t the requirement. West Brom could have taken the lead from the penalty spot, and twice threatened comebacks, as Terry’s week was compounded with a harsh dismissal for a foul on the bright Salomon Rondon.
And playing the most important role in the much-needed win was, predictably, Pedro. The Spaniard recorded more shots (3) than any other Chelsea player over their previous two games. There was an obvious touch of fortune over both his opening goal and the assist for Diego Costa’s finish, but – and forgive the cliché – you create your own luck.
Providing the foil to Lionel Messi’s genius was the 28-year-old’s previous job description, and while he clearly relished his opening salvo as a supremely talented player given a platform of his own to shine, that previous experience as the consummate team player was just as vital for the Blues.
Different surroundings for the Spanish international, with Willian, Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao benefiting from him creating chances as opposed to Messi and Neymar, but the same result nonetheless. Before his substitution to rapturous away applause on 84 minutes, he was by far and away Chelsea’s most productive attacking outlet, his average position on the field only marginally behind that of Costa.
That’s not to denigrate his defensive offerings. No player made more tackles (2), with one particular instance coming after tracking back 20 yards having been dispossessed by Calum McManaman in the first half, while only Nemanja Matic (5) recorded more interceptions than the debutant (2). Eden Hazard may have taken time to acclimatise to Mourinho’s demanding work ethic, but he will hold no such fears over his £21.4million signing.
The effect of Pedro’s presence was clearest to see on Hazard himself. Freed from the shackles of expectation, the Belgian was afforded more time and space than to which he has become accustomed in the English game, clever interplay with Pedro providing an assist for the opening goal, with a match-high five key passes to follow.
Pace, trickery, invention and a hugely potent attacking threat to go with his admirable defensive work. If Louis van Gaal was telling the truth over Man United ‘ending their interest’ in the Spanish international of their own accord, one really must wonder why, particularly in light of another performance lacking in much of the aforementioned against Newcastle on Saturday.
Some question marks do remain over Chelsea’s title defence, with particular fears surely cast in the direction of the formerly fierce Nemanja Matic. The midfield destroyer conceded both a penalty and a needless booking in the opening 45 minutes as he continues to look a shadow of his imperious self. Terry’s sending-off may have been harsh, but his struggles in dealing with Rondon will do nothing to allay existing fears over the 34-year-old.
But the day belongs to Pedro: Chelsea’s biggest ‘win’ of the season so far. His agent, Antonio Sanz, likened Chelsea’s negotiations over his signing as “a lightning bolt”, accusing Man United of ‘falling asleep’ in their conduct over the deal. Regardless of the truth over United’s interest, Chelsea’s purchase of Pedro signals their wake-up call in the Premier League title race.