Ground-Drog day: Champions Chelsea start the season with gluttony of goals

Posted on August 15, 2010


98 summer days have passed since Chelsea sealed their first title in four years by thumping an orange-clad Wigan Athletic 8-0 in early May.

In that time, Spain have been crowned world champions, fans still expect to hear the buzzing  cacophony of vuvzuelas anywhere near a pitch, and Fabio Capello has shed the ice-cool tactically astute Italian exterior to reveal the haplessly bumbling  England coach we’re all far more accustomed to ridiculing. Plenty has happened, but Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea remain the most unforgiving team in the Premier League.

The double-winners took to the field with four consecutive pre-season defeats behind them, including last weekend’s 3-1 Community Shield loss to Manchester United. Defensive mishaps have littered the Blues preparations and Alex Ferguson rightly claimed his side’s comfortable Wembley win as a signal of the team’s intent to claim a record-breaking 19th domestic title.

But from the opening whistle onwards it was a case of playing from memory for the Champions. With five minutes on the clock, Didier Drogba’s free-kick drive was fumbled by Scott Carson who blocked John Obi Mikel’s follow-up only for the ball to be duly struck in by Florent Malouda from 5 yards out.

The Frenchman was Chelsea’s most improved player of last season scoring 17 goals from left-midfield; as part of the calamitous French World Cup campaign, Malouda – who opened and closed the scoring with Chelsea’s sixth in the 91st minute – epitomises this team’s ability to erase the memory of misfortunes gone by. None of the starting eleven shined in South Africa, but they’re different players with blue on their back. This is a source of consternation for England fans in particular but a great testament to the collective resilience of individuals who can shelve away the bad in continuance of their most fluid and brilliant best, a quality that guided them to a tough fought championship title.

This could have been said to have been Chelsea’s best pre-season performance of the lot. The fixture Gods have certainly smiled on Ancelotti and as opening day opposition newly promoted West Brom came freshly gift-wrapped from the Championship.

Baggies boss and former Stamford Bridge favourite Roberto Di Matteo was welcomed with warm applause from the Blues faithful. As a player, Di Matteo was nothing if not wholehearted and his side reflected a principled commitment to play the passing game that had seen them get promoted. They recovered well from the opening goal, rallying to produce passages of composed play and possession and limiting Chelsea to one until the dying embers of the first half.

Opting to flood the midfield, Di Matteo’s tactics were an attempt to unsettle an error-prone Mikel, stifle the box-to-box runs of Lampard and contain the boisterous Essien, but Chelsea’s midfield triumvirate remained untouched whereas Roman Bednar was left the lonest of lone strikers.  The Czech striker did beat his compatriot in the Chelsea goal from 20 yards, only to be ruled offside, whilst Chris Brunt had his attempt deflected from goal by Alex for what would have been only a consolation.

The Midlands side are the yo-yo team par excellence but should not be too despondent at this opening-day thumping; their persistence in sticking to what they know was always liable to leave them open to a hammering. Ancelotti’s men are nothing if not unforgiving, ruthlessly dishing out a footballing punishment for those daring to play their own game on the Champion’s turf. And none come as predatory as Ivorian beast Didier Drogba.

It was Drogba’s goals, a long-distance free kick at the end of the first half, and a bumbled effort in the box that quashed the Baggies hope that they could prevent a score that could grace Lords cricket ground.

Last season's Golden Boot Didier Drogba celebrates a hat-trick in the season opener against West Brom

An injury doubt only two weeks ago, the no. 11 was clinically exacting on his defensive victims, sealing the start of his sixth season in the Premier League as he finished the fifth, with a hat-trick. The best of the lot was Lampard’s first and Chelsea’s fourth. Another injury doubt after taking a knock in training, Lampard started the opener and finished off a dizzying one touch move after slick build from Anelka and Ashley Cole. The goal was the clearest reminiscence of the best of Ancelotti’s double-winning side; ostensible striker Anelka and left-back Cole were in a role reversal, as the Frenchman dropped deep to deliver to Cole in the box. His simple pass found on-rushing Lampard to make it four on the hour-mark. The sixth and final crush in the demolition job saw Anelka lofting in a searching ball from midfield, Malouda latched on, rounded a hapless Carson and finished impressively to wheel off in a triumphant closing celebration. 6-0 is the highest opening day victory in the Premier League’s history

The most visible change to the team of 10/11 is the splash of red that colours the top of the new home kit’s collar. Manufacturers Adidas claim the red signifies the link between the club and its oldest fans – the Chelsea Pensioners. However, it is perhaps a more a prescient reminder that Ancelotti’s current Pensioners will be looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack  – Utd, Arsenal, and Liverpool. The suavely attired Carlo Ancelotti will face opposition that will get him hot under his Dolce & Gabbana collar, notably in late Sept/early Oct when the Blues are away at Man City and home to Arsenal but for the foreseeable month at least, the fixture list seems facilitates more of the same (Wigan, Stoke, West Ham and Blackpool await).

An unrelenting greed for goals is not something one associates with Italians. Chelsea may need a dose of catenaccio if they are to retain the title and clutch the ears of Champions League trophy that has so cruelly eluded them, but for now, swash-buckling remains the order of the day.