DONETSK, Ukraine: Chelsea have vowed to persist with the dashing football that has taken them four points clear in the Premier League, ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League trip to in-form Shakhtar Donetsk.
In a far cry from last season’s backs-to-the-wall success in the Champions League, Chelsea owe their early-season momentum to expansive, attacking football illuminated by individual flourishes.
The London club’s new face was in evidence again at White Hart Lane on Saturday, when they stormed back from 2-1 down against Tottenham Hotspur to win 4-2 and thereby galvanise their grip on first place.
It was Chelsea’s first win at Spurs in the league since August 2005 and man-of-the-match Juan Mata said such performances only made the squad more determined to pursue the philosophy that has taken root under Roberto Di Matteo.
“If you win and you can play as we played at Tottenham, that is the best way to play,” said the Spaniard, who scored twice and made a goal for Daniel Sturridge.
“We are playing well and we are all enjoying this moment. What we need to do is keep training hard and now we play Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine and we want to stay at the top of our group in the Champions League.”
Chelsea’s 4-0 win at Danish debutants FC Nordsjaelland in their last outing put them top of Group E, but they lead Shakhtar by goal difference alone and cannot compete with the Ukrainian champions when it comes to recent form.
Shakhtar’s 2-1 win over Illichivets Mariupol on Friday was their 21st consecutive league win — a Ukrainian Premier League record — and made them the first team from Ukraine to win their opening 12 games in a top-flight season.
Mircea Lucescu’s men are already 12 points clear of their nearest domestic challengers, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, and they have managed to carry that rhythm into the European arena as well.
Two-nil victors over Nordsjaelland in their opening game, they produced a superb performance to draw 1-1 at Juventus three weeks ago and might have taken all three points had an attempt by Willian not hit the bar in injury time.
Lucescu, the well-travelled Romanian coach, said he took more satisfaction from the performance than the result against Juve, and says his side will “obviously” go out in search of victory when Chelsea come to town.
Chelsea are understandably buoyed by their recent form, but they can barely afford a disappointing result against a team who have not lost in their four previous home games with English opposition.
Defeat for Chelsea, coupled with victory for Juventus against Nordsjaelland, would leave Di Matteo’s side in third place at the halfway point of the group, and with a taxing trip to Turin to play Juve still to come on November 20.
Nonetheless, Di Matteo expects his side to play without fear at Donetsk’s Donbass Arena, and says that players like Mata and summer signings Eden Hazard and Oscar do not know how to play any other way.
“Ultimately we want to win games,” said the Italian, whose side have scored four times in each of their last three matches.
“We want to win in the way we think we can win games with the players we have. We don’t go out and just say, ‘Let’s play good football and lose.’
“Our philosophy is to play in a certain way because we believe with the players we have that is the way to win games.”
John Terry is expected to lead Chelsea out as captain in Donetsk, despite his four-game domestic ban for racial abuse having prevented him from playing at Spurs.