Chelsea's 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv may be their latest false dawn
Three thoughts on Chelsea's 4-0 win at Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League on Tuesday.
1. Another false dawn for Chelsea?
Back-to-back wins for Chelsea again at last, but also back to so many of the themes and discussions of this season.
That is the one big caveat to this otherwise-comfortable and convincing 4-0 win over 10-man Maccabi Tel Aviv: They were still dependent on two set pieces to get them going -- the second, of course, coming from another Willian direct free kick -- and still only beat one of the poorest sides in the competition after former Chelsea player Tal Ben Haim got sent off for a stupid hack at Diego Costa in the first half. There was a lot of dissatisfaction evident on the sideline from Jose Mourinho, at his players, the pitch and the officials.
Sure, the Portuguese's side looked better than in the chaotic weeks before the international break, but didn't look that much better than when they beat Maccabi at home in September. That was seen as a turning point during testing times only for it all to switch back, and the wonder is whether we'll see the same again, whether they have properly changed.
You only have to look at the teams they've beaten this season to realise that it's difficult to get too convinced by this. Those sides are West Brom, Maccabi, Arsenal, Walsall, Aston Villa, Dynamo Kiev, Norwich City and Maccabi again.
Other than West Brom away and Arsenal at home, none of those wins really stand out, and none of them led to the kind of upswing that will now be expected after this.
That, again, is the point. This was a little more of the same. Just like against a poor Norwich City on Saturday, it seemed Chelsea needed lesser opponents to bring out something livelier in them, and there's still a limpness to them.
At the least, Gary Cahill showed plenty of strength in the 20th minute to plunder the opening goal by following up his header and slotting home, and Willian then sealed the game with a typically brilliant free kick. Oscar then scored a sumptuous header from open play, before Kurt Zouma got a similar one from -- yes, again -- another set piece.
Chelsea just have to get a result against a superior side. That is why Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday will say so much.
How they perform against Porto in the final game of this group will say even more. A draw, at least, will say they are in the last 16.
2. Chelsea attack still short on confidence
Mourinho, however, had plenty to say on the sideline here. One conspicuous moment came just before half-time when he ranted at Diego Costa, for what seemed a refusal to follow-up Cesc Fabregas' supreme pass for Eden Hazard.
The Spanish midfielder had chipped in gorgeously, only for Hazard to stretch and strive to get it across ... with no-one there to follow-up. Had Costa done what he did so often last season, and do what any good striker should, by properly following in, it would have at least been a well-worked team goal.
That has been so absent this season. It's been so rare that Chelsea have scored goals involving open-play moves of more than two players.
There were at least hints at it here, not least when Oscar beautifully scored the third, or when Hazard powered a shot at Predrag Rajkovic -- who had such a better game than in the first match, pulling off some superb saves.
It's still difficult to say whether Chelsea's superior interchanges were down to weakness of opposition, however, or growing confidence in their own strength. The suspicion remains that it is the former, and Mourinho gave plenty of evidence for that with some of his other in-game calls.
He proceeded to somewhat-unfairly haul off Hazard, and the tension with Costa seemed to continue all game, as the striker went straight down the tunnel without shaking hands.
Chelsea still look a little short of the real shake-up required.
3. Chelsea defence still panicked
It may be harsh to pick such holes in a 4-0 win that sets up qualification for the round of 16, but this match still could have been so different.
So much of Chelsea's season has been conditioned by specific individual moments going for or against them, given how extremes their reactions have been -- especially with the negative. There would have been a real negative had Maccabi done what they threatened in the remarkable opening 10 minutes, as they battered Chelsea back, causing panic among Mourinho's backline once again.
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That is far from the first time we've seen that this season, but it at least didn't see the Israeli side hit the first goal of the game. Nevertheless, Chelsea never looked completely secure either.
Eran Zahavi continued to threaten when it was just 1-0, bringing a brilliant save from Asmir Begovic in the second half, and there were further defensive worries for Mourinho when John Terry was taken off injured.
This win, commanding as it was in terms of scoreline, cannot ease the minds of the English champions just yet.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.