How the boo targets responded: 6 things from Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland
1. Was this really the same team?
"Where were you when we were s***?" came the chant from a large number of Chelsea supporters
Ever seen a team anger a section of their own fans by scoring goals? It happened at Stamford Bridge on a very surreal afternoon against Sunderland. "Where were you when we were s***?" came the chant from a large number of Chelsea supporters, not long after the Blues had raced into a 2-0 lead inside 13 minutes against the hapless Black Cats. It was a chant very much aimed at the players.
The message had been clear from before kick-off when Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa's names in particular – plus Nemanja Matic, Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic to a lesser extent – were booed by a number of Chelsea fans as the teams were read out.
If Jose Mourinho was the fall guy for the Blues' horrendous start to the season, it was obvious that many fans blamed a number of the club's underperforming players instead. One suspects Eden Hazard might have got the same reception, had he not been injured. Captain John Terry and Willian, arguably Chelsea's best player this season, were cheered as normal – in fact, probably even louder than normal, to emphasise the point.
It was always going to be intriguing to see how and if Chelsea responded to Mourinho's exit, and respond they certainly did. Having toiled all season, even at home, from kick-off the Blues were dominant against Sunderland, securing victory with ease. The west Londoners were on top to such a degree in the first half that they completed 97 passes in the final third, while Sunderland could only manage a paltry nine. “They were annihilating us,” Black Cats boss Sam Allardyce admitted.
Over the course of the 90 minutes Chelsea completed 490 passes in total to Sunderland’s 191, and peppered 17 shots at the visitors’ goal.
"I said to the players that whatever their feelings were regarding the situation, that they had a responsibility to the football club and its supporters all around the world," said Steve Holland, Chelsea's caretaker boss for the day. "We have quality players, I have no doubt about that, and the players care. They had to show that on the pitch."
2. Fabregas responded well
Fabregas was one of the main targets of the boo boys pre-match, despite thanking Mourinho on social media after the manager's exit
Holland, looking after the team as newly appointed interim boss Guus Hiddink watched on from the stands, made only two changes to the side that lost 2-1 at Leicester in Mourinho's last game. One was Pedro for the injured Hazard, the other was to restore Fabregas in place of Ramires.
Fabregas was one of the main targets of the boo boys pre-match, despite thanking Mourinho on social media after the manager's exit.
The midfielder's form had slumped badly though this season, to the point where he was no longer worth a place in the side. In contrast against Sunderland, Fabregas was measured in possession and at the time of his substitution after 71 minutes he had completed 66 of 72 attempted passes – five more than any other player.
3. Costa only likes being Mr Unpopular with the opposition
The striker took a good look around at the crowd as he was substituted, as some fans booed and many others chanted Mourinho’s name
If there was one player who didn’t seem to improve much in this first game without Mourinho, it was Costa.
The Spain international received some of the loudest boos before kick-off, largely as a result of throwing a bib in Mourinho's direction after being left on the bench in the recent draw at Tottenham. Mourinho had spoken recently about how Costa was struggling for confidence in front of goal, having only struck three league goals this season. That confidence still seemed absent on this occasion as he was outshone by Chelsea’s other attacking players.
Costa had only two shots, both of them off target, was unsuccessful with all four attempted take-ons and lost six of nine aerial duels. The striker took a good look around at the crowd as he was substituted, as some fans booed and many others chanted Mourinho’s name.
Costa has long relished being Mr Unpopular with opposing players and fans, but didn’t look like he was much enjoying the same status with his own supporters.
Caretaker boss Holland applauded both Costa and Fabregas off the field and insisted he was content with their displays. "I was happy with their contributions," Holland said. "I applauded them because I felt they deserved that."
Asked about the boos, he said: "The supporters have a right to voice their opinions. It was difficult for everybody but it's been a difficult few days. But if the players play and compete like they did today, I don't see any reason why the supporters won't be happy."
4. Oscar in sparkling form
By the end any boos that were coming his way were drowned out by warm applause as he was substituted
The player who looked most revitalised by Mourinho's departure was Oscar. The Brazilian was in the mood to be creative, attempting an audacious rabona within the opening 10 minutes, and a cheeky backheel followed not long afterwards. Before the half was over he would cleverly dart through the defence and see a shot saved.
Oscar had scored only one Premier League goal so far this season but a second arrived in this match as he calmly slotted home a penalty shortly after half-time. He came close to a second goal too, curling into the side netting with a smart effort from outside the box.
In total the 24-year-old attempted five shots and completed 67 of 80 passes, 31 of which came in the attacking third – seven more than any other player. He created one chance, completed four out of five attempted tackles and was successful with an impressive six of seven take-ons – three more than anyone else.
By the end any boos that were coming his way were drowned out by warm applause as he was substituted late on.
5. Ivanovic revived as an attacking threat
Chelsea’s opening goal could not have been more symbolic. At the very moment the home fans were breaking into a chant of "Jose Mourinho", Ivanovic got his head on a right-wing corner from Willian and powered it into the top corner
Ivanovic had been one of those whose form had declined alarmingly this season, even if he had improved in recent games following his return from injury.
Last season the right-back had been a force both defensively and offensively, and he was back to his attacking best in the opening stages against Sunderland, scoring the first goal and then providing the cross that led to Pedro making it 2-0.
Ivanovic also made two blocks during the match and completed four interceptions – as many as any player on the pitch.
6. Matic back to tidy best
Matic has been another who has struggled badly at times this season – perhaps most notably when he came on as a half-time substitute against Southampton, and was then hauled off himself midway through the second period.
But the Serbian used the ball as intelligently as ever in this game, completing 77 of his 82 attempted passes, giving him a stunning 93.9% pass-completion rate. His tally of passes was also 10 higher than anyone else, although that was largely because Fabregas went off with 19 minutes left.
Matic also completed three out of three take-ons, four out of five tackles and all three of his attempted clearances.