The day Charly Musonda shed a tear.
There was an air of inevitability in Chelsea’s League cup opener against Forest last night. The Champions looked the part and completed a routine victory against a team, that had narrowly escaped relegation to League One in May.
Antonio Conte, opted for Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill at the back with Davide Zappacosta and Brazilian youngster Kenedy marauding the wings on the right and left respectively. Kenedy opened the scoring with a delectable laser guided volley into the near post, having been served by an even juicer half field cross by Antonio Rudiger. The pair would combine again late in the game, only this time Kenedy’s shot ricocheted off the bar and fell into the gleeful lap of Michy Batshuayi to tap in.
In between those goals, two Belgians of vastly different stature lit up an otherwise chilly autumn evening at the Bridge. Hazard’s name on the team sheet came as no surprise. Following the goalless draw against Arsenal at the weekend, the manager had announced his intention to start the Belgian last night. Charly Musonda’s selection though, raised a few eyebrows. Most Blues fans may be pardoned for confusing him with his two elder brothers (also Chelsea Academy graduates) or for mistaking his departure on loan to a club somewhere down the leagues. Charly did in fact leave for Real Betis in January 2016, and stayed at the club till December, before being recalled by Conte for additional attacking cover during the back end of last season. Chelsea didn’t require his services and it seemed the Belgian U-21 International was set for another loan spell to further his development.
It was a welcome relief for Blues fans around the world then, that Conte, after viewing his performances in Spain found it imperative to include Musonda in the senior squad for the upcoming season. In terms of style of play, he is not much different from his elder compatriot in discussion. He has that rare ability to shield the ball with his body in tight spaces, and take on defenders in full flight, much like Hazard.
Against Arsenal, Chelsea were neat, compact and industrious but were ultimately crying out for a spark of creativity for much of the game. Once Hazard was brought on, most of the play went through him and understandably so because Chelsea’s other attacking midfield creators in Willian and Pedro are limited in their ability to beat players.
Musonda brings an additional distraction to defenders already worrying about Hazard passing through them at will. At times last night, Musonda’s energy and willingness on the ball was hard to deny. He was confident, direct with his running and rarely gave in to over extending his technical skills with the ball, a temptation that he may have succumbed to – being miles ahead of the defenders that were tasked to stop him. His joy and gratitude (likely to have won many hearts) on scoring a goal on debut was the highlight of the evening. If you viewed it in isolation, the celebration may indicate that the goal was a lot more important than the third in a 5-1 drubbing of Forest at home, in the opening game of the ‘Carabao cup’.
But good on him. Good on him for living his moment for what it is. ‘A goal for the defending English Champions at Stamford Bridge in front of a packed house’. With the pressures and expectations of modern day management, he may never get that moment again, Conte may decide to be wise and go with a regular starter next time. So, Charly Musonda, equipped with the knowledge that most Chelsea graduates in the past have been compelled to temper their dreams, chose to bathe in the opportunity handed out to him, score a cracking goal, run half the pitch to celebrate and fall to the ground with his head in his hands before the tears finally caught up. A proper football moment. The stuff that makes it beautiful.
The other Belgian in midfield had a delightful game too. There were signs of the wizardry finding its way back to his wand as Hazard showed glimpses of his fitter self. He combined with Musonda on several occasions, especially from set pieces, and if not for the latter’s leaner and stouter build, you would find it hard to distinguish between their flicks and tricks. Hazard eventually, raised the bar to an unachievable height with a near perfect touch from a Fabregas lob, that made the Forest defense look like the players Shakespeare was probably referring to. He then proceeded to send the keeper on his knees, his hands flapping like a bird in a giant wind tunnel, only to not score himself but to lay it on a plate for, you guessed it, a gleeful Michy Batshuayi.
Conte took the opportunity to introduce more ‘little horses’ from the Chelsea stable. Midfielders Ethan Ampadu and Dujon Sterling as well as defender Jake Clarke-Salter got an invaluable taste of first team action. The blues face Everton in the next round and there is certain to be a Belgian flavour in the middle of the park. How much though, remains to be seen.
Batshuayi Image via Independent
Feature Image via We Ain’t Got No History