The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “When you have scored 103 goals and set a scoring record in your last season, it is generosity beyond the call of duty for your first opponents of this term to be doling out gifts. Scott Carson continued the fine traditions of post-modern England goalkeepers by panicking and spilling with all the grace of a Laurel and Hardy sketch. The season was only five minutes old and Chelsea were back in the old routine. The goal machine clicked back into gear.”
Sunday Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “Six goals, a hat-trick from Didier Drogba and immediately back on top of the league. As a statement of intent, this was so emphatic that some bookmakers are already quoting odds on Chelsea remaining at the summit of the Premier League all the way until May.”
Independent on Sunday, Mark Fleming: “It was as if the World Cup had never happened as Chelsea’s star names came to the fore, having flopped for their countries on the biggest stage. Didier Drogba was a marginal figure for Ivory Coast, but here he was playing again with conviction and passion, scoring a hat-trick that provided remarkable symmetry with the end of last season, when he scored three goals in Chelsea’s 8-0 demolition of Wigan that clinched the Premier League title on the final day.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A Didier Drogba hat-trick, Frank Lampard among the goals, a mighty home win and Chelsea on top of the table. No it is not a reposting of the report from the final league game of last season, but happily the first one of this campaign.”
As usual, I am writing this preamble, as honestly as I can, the day before the game, without false hindsight.
I am pessimistic about this match. After our very poor pre-season and numerous comments from the club about the poor fitness of the players it seems to me this match has come a fortnight too soon.
West Brom are newly-promoted but I hear that they have invested heavily in several overseas players and have, as their manager, Roberto di Matteo, with Eddie Newton as his assistant. For me, Robbie was a true Chelsea great and I hope that he gets a warm welcome tomorrow. But, for some reason, I always feel nervous when ex-Chelsea people manage teams against us. Poyet with Spurts, Gianfranco and Steve Clarke with the Spammers, Mark Hughes with Blackburn and Citeh have all got results against us in the past few seasons. And even Avram Grant with Portsmouth, got close to us in the FA Cup final last May. And, of course, Jose knocked us out of the Champions League last season as well. They all seem to come with a point or two to prove and their teams always fight very hard.
I have real doubts about our defence, too. We have let in seven goals in the last three matches, the majority of them from absurd mistakes. Both reserve goalkeepers, Zhirkov, JT, Ivanovic and Ashley have all been suspect and don’t inspire confidence. Riccy has gone to Real Madrid and, although I feel he is not the player he was a few years ago, he urgently needs replacing as only JT and Alex are left, with Bruma and Mancienne to back them up. I know Ivan is a central defender, too, but I would prefer to see him at right-back, in which position he was so outstanding last season.
Up front we have also looked poor, with Drogs recovering from surgery, Nic playing out of position, Kalou erratic as ever, and only Dan Sturridge looking lively.
My prediction is that we will come away with a narrow win – as happened against Hull in the opening fixture at home last season, when Drogs rescued us with a mis-hit winner in the last minute.
I remind myself that we are the Premier League Champions (with a new record of 103 goals scored) and the only team so far to win the Double in the 21st Century. We have a very, very good manager who proved many of us wrong last season (including me) and we have been nominated by the majority of pundits (including Andy Townsend!) to win the League again. We still have a squad with some outstanding players, including the returning Michael Essien, who is the equivalent of a new signing after so long out with his made-in-Ghana injuries. We have signed Ramires, with the prospect of getting Neymar, too – two very exciting Brazilians who may well solve the problem many of us noticed in the pre-season games: a lack of pace and inventiveness moving forward.
And here is another fact to get things in perspective. Exactly twenty years ago Chelsea opened their season (managed by Geoff Hurst) in the old Second Division with a 2-2 draw against Wrexham. As we trooped away from the Shed at the end I recall that the general mood was mild relief that we had not, yet again, thrown away the game with another shambolic defensive performance (dear old Petar Borota was in goal that day). Let’s just keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are now to be urging on the English Champions.
But we really do need to come out of the sticks fast with at least three wins against West Brom, Wigan, Stoke and West Ham in our first four games. This season could be even tougher than last year’s and, in my view, early dominance is essential. We really cannot afford any slip-ups against the relegation candidates.
Cech; Paulo Alex JT Ashley; Essien Mikel Lamps; Anelka Drogs Malouda.
Subs: Hilario, Ivan, van Aanholt, Zhirkov, Benayoun, Kalou, Sturridge.
OK, I am going to have a moan about this selection. If Ivan is fit then he should be at right-back. If Drogs is still struggling for fitness then why aren’t we putting Sturridge on first, with Drogs ready to come on if we struggle? And I would have liked to see Kakuta on the bench rather than Zhirkov, who is also recovering from an injury and has looked very poor in those pre-season games. And why name four left-sided players in the squad?
Carlo frequently baffles me with his selections and substitutions. But that may be one of the reasons why he is the Manager of Chelsea Football Club and I am not.
After just three minutes we’ve got our Chelsea back, with Lamps, Nic, Malouda and Ashley interchanging passes and combining effortlessly up on the left, despite the pelting rain. Nic is first on target with a shot well saved by Scott Carson. And on five minutes we are ahead. We get a slightly fortunate free-kick when Malouda loses possession and is then brought down. Up steps Drogs, and his drive is pushed away by Carson, only for John Obi to jump-pass for Malouda to knock it in. Good to see Jon Obi so far forward and, indeed, he looks like a different player to me, playing far more forward.
Our tactics are interesting. On paper it looks like a 4-3-3 but from moment to moment this seems to change to 4-5-1, to 4-2-1-2-1 as the emphasis from attack, to defence, to playing keep-ball changes, and the intelligence of the players dictates. Hard to tell whether West Brom are a decent side or not because we are closing them down so quickly: the moment they gain possession we seem to have four or five men around the ball-holder. As a result they resort to long balls which gives us the possession back.
The Bison and John Obi sometimes combine as two holding midfielders behind Lamps, just as we saw many teams playing in the World Cup. The Bison wasn’t doing his usual rampages forward but that did enable Lamps and Flo to do the creative stuff. And it also got John Obi forward sometimes. I checked it out and John Obi is still only 23, a month older than Ramires, and he is improving all the time.
Nevertheless the remainder of the first half looks a bit scrappy as we play keep-ball, looking for the counter-attack, while West Brom flood the midfield. On 39 minutes we get what would have been a replica of the opening goal. This time Lamps takes the free kick, their goalie pushes it away, but Flo heads just over.
But on 45 minutes the Drogs Bollocks steps up and knocks a 25-yard free kick around the wall and into the net with absurd simplicity (although it was a very poor wall). Leaving me feeling like a bit of an idiot with my pre-match comments.
Half-time: Chelsea 2 West Bromich Albion 0.
The second half
The first ten minutes is scrappy with us content with the lead and playing on the counter-attack. West Brom take the game to us, and pass well, but don’t, with one exception (a free kick from Dorrans), create any chances. JT and Alex both look nonchalant.
On 55 minutes my pre-match pessimism looks even more foolish. With our first real attack of the half we win a corner. Malouda floats it in and JT’s power header is cleared off the line, only for Drogs to scramble it in. Even so, all three goals have come from set-pieces and the West Brom defence is very poor.
At this point Carlo substitutes Ivan for Ferreira. Then it strikes me that Ivan was, probably, still carrying the knock he caught from playing that ‘friendly’ against the cloggers at Eintracht Frankfurt, which was the reason why clever old Carlo didn’t put him on at the start.
On 62 minutes we score our first from open play with yet more beautiful football. Nic plays a diagonal pass to Ashley, who runs on like a hare to set up Lamps, who runs forward and side-foots it into the net. Simple, effective, and quite awesome. We’ve simply carried on where we left off against Wigan with the 8-0.
Job done, Carlo substitutes Lamps with Benayoun. Interesting, that, given that many of us thought that Benayoun was a replacement for Joe Cole. But, in truth, Benayoun did little to excite me during the 25 minutes he was on the pitch.
On 67 minutes it is 5-0 with yet another wonder goal from the Drogs Bollocks. I can’t see from here whether it was Ashley or Flo who set him up but from 28 yards out he hammers a deflected shot into the net to the left of the keeper. Genius!
And now Carlo brings him off and replaces him with Kalou, who does his usual impression of a buzzing bee without that much to show for it.
From now on we are ticking down the clock, happy to let West Brom take possession and come forward. Credit to them, and to Di Matteo, they don’t wilt, and they nearly score on 85 minutes with one shot headed narrowly wide by Alex.
89 minutes. 6-0. Nic – who has been excellent all match now that he is restored to his natural position as support striker, places a perfectly-timed ball through to Malouda, who rounds the keeper and strokes it in.
Full-time: Chelsea 6 West Bromwich Albion 0.
This section is really hard to write because, really, the whole team played well, with one or two possible exceptions amongst the substitutes. The front four: Drogs, Nic, Flo and Lamps were outstanding but only because the Bison and John Obi were solid, unselfish and disciplined behind them. Our back four looked in control from start to finish and it is easy to say ‘Yes – but it’s only West Brom’ – except that West Brom were not that bad a side. Easily better than Eintracht and Hamburg, I thought.
Man of the Match
I really wanted to give this to Malouda, who if he carries on playing like he has today, just as he did last season, will very soon be joining Lamps in the ‘Chelsea Legends’ gallery. But I just have to give it to Drogs. For a man to undergo surgery one month ago and then score a hat-trick on the opening day of the season puts him up there with the Gods.
- We are top of the table from Day One.
- We’ve got our Chelsea back.
- I won’t need to take any Lithium Carbonate tonight.
- Citeh and Spurs draw.
- Our rivals will be reading their newspapers this morning with a sinking feeling of dread.
- Mark Clattenburg. I make a point of complimenting good refereeing performances and Clattenburg, in my opinion, is one of the best in the country.
- KaiserJonny_II. Next time I find myself getting too pessimistic about our prospects I will re-apply myself to his despatches with renewed care and attention.
- I have no chance whatever of becoming the Manager of Chelsea Football Club.
Final comment from Carlo
“We did our job. Nothing special.”