Vibrant Chelsea take spotlight off Terry
LONDON - European champions Chelsea turned the spotlight away from the John Terry racism saga with a vibrant display in a 4-2 Premier League victory at London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
The club's top brass defended the decision to retain Terry as captain in the build-up to Saturday's derby - the first of four games the defender will miss through suspension after the FA found him guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers.
By the end of a pulsating clash in north London the talk was not of Terry but of Chelsea's rapid progress under Roberto Di Matteo, the man who replaced Andre Villas-Boas as coach.
Villas-Boas and Di Matteo were in opposing dugouts on Saturday and it was the Chelsea man who was happiest despite a stirring second-half revival by Spurs who rallied from a 1-0 deficit to lead 2-1 before caving in to the league leaders.
Chelsea have not started a season as impressively as this since the days of Jose Mourinho, dropping two points in their opening eight games.
After Villas-Boas's exit in March, Di Matteo won the FA Cup and the Champions League and there are clear signs the Italian is building a side capable of mounting a Premier League title challenge this season.
Spaniard Juan Mata, a Villas-Boas signing, scored two goals and made another while the movement of Eden Hazard and slender Brazilian Oscar gave Chelsea a panache that Spurs did not match.
Even striker Fernando Torres is beginning to show the kind of form that prompted the Stamford Bridge club to part with a British record fee of 50 million pounds ($80.12 million) to sign him from Liverpool in January 2011.
Di Matteo appeared to be relieved his side had put on a performance to deflect attention away from former England skipper Terry.
Even more so as the centre half's replacement, Gary Cahill, scored a stunning volley to put Chelsea in front.
"It's been tough for us as a club and as a team to deal with all these issues but today we showed we can channel all our energies towards the football which is our priority," said Di Matteo who exchanged a warm embrace with Villas-Boas after the game.
Cahill's 17th-minute strike put Chelsea in control but goals from William Gallas and Jermain Defoe threatened to end the west London club's unbeaten start to the season.
Mata's class then shone through as he scored twice in quick succession midway through the second half before setting up substitute Daniel Sturridge for an easy tap-in late on.
"Our philosophy is to play in a certain way because we believe that, with the players we have, that's the way to win games," Di Matteo told reporters, alluding to his team's stylish approach.
Despite back to back away wins against Arsenal and Tottenham, however, Di Matteo is not getting carried away.
"We have a good squad which I'm happy with and every time a player comes in they have performed well," he said.
"We have a good base and are able to make two or three changes without noticing too much.
"It's too early to talk (about the title), there are still 30 games to play. This result makes us a team who are strong and makes our start even better but you have to wait until the Christmas period," added Di Matteo.
Villas-Boas, who saw his Tottenham side lose for the first time since the opening day of the season, was generous in his praise for the club that jettisoned him.
"There was individual brilliance from Oscar, Mata and Hazard who were tremendous," the Portuguese said after Chelsea won at Tottenham for the first time in seven league visits to White Hart Lane.
"I think the kind of form Chelsea are showing is what we saw from (champions) Manchester City last year. Manchester United caught them up a little towards the last minutes of the season so you never know what can happen.
"The players they have, the level of form they have and the fact they are so connected with each other means they are so creative and you can only compliment teams that play like this," added Villas-Boas.