Jose Mourinho’s fringe men shine for Chelsea

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John Terry, Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic and Branislav Ivanovic were all sat on the bench of Chelsea’s 4-0 win in the UEFA Champions League over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Jose Mourinho was making a point.

[ RECAP: Chelsea smash four past Maccabi ]

After a torrid start to the current Premier League campaign — three defeats from their opening five games says as much — the Blues needed a shake up and the men Mourinho brought into the starting line up on Wednesday, albeit against a weak Tel Aviv outfit, did their job and have now given their manager a selection headache for Saturday’s massive London derby against Arsenal (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

“The most important thing was to win. If some players had good individual performances, good for them, if some score a goal that was also important,” Mourinho told BT Sport after the game.

“The only negative thing was Willian‘s injury. Apart from that everything was positive. I have a lot of thinking always. I try to read the game before it starts, and I have a lot of thinking before Arsenal.”

Of the men he brought in, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the standout player. The 19-year-old central midfielder provided grit in the engine room and cleaned up Maccabi attacks with ease, which allowed Cesc Fabregas to roam free as he set up Costa for his goal and then added Chelsea’s fourth.

“Ruben Loftus-Cheek showed personality, he wanted to play,” Mourinho added. “We played him and Fabregas because they are fast thinking, fast moving the ball and that helps the team because we found lots of attacking situations.I am really happy with his performance.”

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Willian, who has been started but been subbed out of each of Chelsea’s PL game so far this season, looked lively early on and he won a penalty kick, then scored the opener with a teasing set-piece delivery which evaded everyone and nestled into the far corner of the net. However the Brazilian was forced off through injury, something which Mourinho described as “the only negative” but his replacement, Costa, looked sharp, scoring an instinctive volley and winning a penalty kick of his own.

In defense, Kurt Zouma put in another dominant display and cleaned up behind Gary Cahill on many occasions, while Cesar Azpilicueta looked more comfortable playing in his natural position of right back in Ivanovic’s absence, plus new left back Baba Rahman provided plenty of pace and power as he joined the attack whenever possible and was barely threatened in defense.

Now, with a morale boosting win under their belt and the only PL side to not only avoid defeat but win in the UCL in Week 1, will Mourinho stick with his fringe players for the massive clash with Arsenal on Saturday?

It’s a tough choice for “The Special One” who was serenaded by the home fans at Stamford Bridge despite their rough start to the season which has seen the Portuguese boss come under plenty of criticism. When it comes down to it, it’s more than likely Terry, Ivanovic, Matic and Costa will all start against an Arsenal side who went to Dinamo Zagreb and lost on Wednesday in their UCL opener. However, without the now suspended Oliver Giroud, Mourinho’s bitter rival Arsene Wenger may now play Theo Walcott up top on his own, which could force a rethink from Mourinho as Terry’s return to the side might be delayed with Zouma and Cahill more suited to dealing with the Arsenal’s forward electric speed.

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Loftus-Cheek will consider himself unlucky not to start on Saturday, as Matic should come straight back in. It seemed more likely that his usual central midfield partner, Fabregas, was under more pressure to put in a performance against Maccabi to prove to Mourinho he still has what it takes following a lackluster start to the season — which he readily acknowledged post-game — that has cast doubt over his ability to continue to cut it in the hustle and bustle of the PL. The man who will be feeling most under pressure is Ivanovic. Shredded time and time again by opposition wingers in the early stages of the current PL season, the right back may lose his place to Azpilicueta as $25 million signing Rahman proved he can do a solid job at left back.

Okay, it was a win against Maccabi, who were back competing in the UCL for the first time in 11 years on Wednesday, but Mourinho’s men needed it and ahead of their clash against Arsenal, the squad is looking strong as the reigning champs received a confidence boost, courtesy of plenty of backups.