The 36-year-old legend came in for Diego Costa and provided a goal and assist in Wednesday night’s 3-0 victory over rivals Tottenham at Stamford Bridge
“Did you remember Diego Costa today? I didn’t.”
On paper it might read like a rather brutal message from Jose Mourinho given he is talking about Chelsea’s best striker and leading scorer with 11 goals from as many Premier League matches since his big money summer move to Stamford Bridge.
But really it tells the story of Mourinho’s total faith in a 36-year-old fading legend who showed he still has plenty left in the tank as Chelsea brushed Tottenham aside to win 3-0 on Wednesday and maintain their six-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.
Didier Drogba may not be able to play twice a week any longer, nor has he retained the pace or agility that once made him one of the most feared strikers in world football.
But he can still make the difference on the big stage. The former general is proving a more than able deputy.
Drogba scored the opening goal in the 1-1 draw away at Manchester United with a header that brought back memories of his famous goal in the Champions League final in 2012.
Here, he was even more influential. After Tottenham had made a lively start in their attempt to win away at Chelsea for the first time since 1990, the game turned in three first-half minutes.
In the 19th minute, Drogba providing the perfect target for Eden Hazard to bounce a one-two into the box before the Belgian attacker fired low past Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Three minutes later, the game was put to bed – and it was classic Drogba.
As soon as Oscar picked up the ball 30 yards from goal, Drogba was thinking a step ahead of the Tottenham defence. He peeled away from Jan Vertonghen, took the ball perfectly in his stride and slotted expertly into the back of the net.
From then on, the result was never in doubt, but Drogba still bumped and bruised his way through Tottenham challenges, limped through an apparent muscle problem, ran until his legs felt like sacks of cement and he was substituted in the 67th minute.
He is a player that perfectly embodies the work ethic and team spirit demanded by the manager.
“It’s remarkable,” reflected Mourinho. “First of all he’s a team player, after that he’s one of these players with an old days mentality. He’s not selfish , not vain, a humble guy. He plays for the team, fights for the team. He’s fantastic.
“When he comes from the bench for the last couple of minutes because the team needs him, he does it with the same mentality as when he starts against Tottenham Hotspur.”
He will likely make way again for Costa when the Blues travel to Newcastle on Saturday, but Drogba is serving his purpose and taking the pressure off the Spain international.
So too is Loic Remy, who highlighted the strength in depth in the Chelsea squad as he came off the bench to score the third goal with a fine run and finish.
“We need Diego Costa but our mentality is the right mentality,” Mourinho added. “You don’t cry about it. You give responsibility to the others and they respond in the best way.”
And Drogba could not have responded any better.