Last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Newcastle had the potential to knock Chelsea off course. After a majestic start to the season, including wins at Everton and Liverpool, St James’ Park would have held few fears for Jose Mourinho and his men. They would have expected a far easier ride than they endured.
Whatever time-wasting tactics Alan Pardew and his ball-boys indulged in, as alleged by Mourinho, Chelsea could, and should, have come away with their unbeaten record intact.
Having lost, however, it was vital that Wednesday night’s game against Sporting Lisbon went to plan.
Thankfully, Mourinho played a couple of masterstrokes which not only saw the Blues run out 3-1 winners but has also led to punters and experts suggesting it will set them right when they return to the Premier League.
Competition for Places
Having lost to Newcastle, it must have been tempting for Mourinho to stick with his first-choice XI.
This would have allowed them to play themselves back into form and, by denying his stars a week off and forcing them to play in a dead rubber, would have demonstrated Mourinho’s anger and frustration.
As it was, Mourinho mixed things up – retaining four of his starting line-up from the weekend and giving the likes of Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah a run out.
The ease with which Chelsea won the game will have reminded Mourinho just what his second string are capable of and what strength in depth he has at his disposal.
Costa Fit and Firing
If Mourinho was going to rest seven of his starters, most fans would have expected Diego Costa to be one.
Given the front man’s injury troubles this season and his apparent fragility, Wednesday night would have been an ideal game to leave him out.
But Mourinho took the opportunity to show Chelsea’s league opponents that Costa is fit enough to play twice a week and that he is coming back to his best.
By playing Costa, it was almost a jibe at Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, who was forced to travel to Roma without his main goal threat – Sergio Aguero.
Costa may not have scored but Mourinho knows that his presence on the field will lift his team and demoralise their opponents.
Next up for Chelsea are Hull City at the Bridge on Saturday and, if beating Sporting is anything to go by, the Tigers look set to be in for a torrid afternoon.