Note: I'm going to be taking the rest of the day off, so the analysis post will have to wait until tomorrow. If there's any news, please fanpost/fanshot it.
In the end, it was an easy win. A hat trick by Didier Drogba, a brace by Florent Malouda, and a Lampard goal put Chelsea six goals to the good, and while the Baggies threatened on occasion, they were shut out to start their Premier League campaign. Manager Roberto di Matteo will be hoping that thrashings of this magnitude are few and far between, but his Chelsea counterpart cannot be anything less than pleased with the result.
6-0 brings the team to the top of the table on goal difference, two ahead of today's surprise package Blackpool, who thrashed Wigan 4-0. It didn't take the Blues long to get on the scoresheet - a dodgy free kick decision for a sixth minute foul on Florent Malouda led to Drogba's effort being spilled by Baggies goalkeeper Scott Carson. He lunged desperately at the feet of Jon Obi Mikel closing in, who simply sidefooted the ball to Malouda for an easy tap in.If the crowds at Stamford Bridge thought that the opener was a sign for things to come, they were to be mistaken, at least for a little while. After the goal, West Brom played with purpose and poise, pinging the ball around effortlessly inside the Chelsea half. Indeed, so strong was the response from the visitors that the hosts could barely sniff the ball for the next twenty minutes. Fortunately for the Blues, Albion's possession was frustrating rather than particularly dangerous, and they had to resort to long range potshots on goal rather than generating any clear-cut chances. They did get the ball in the net, midway through the half, but the linesman's flag (probably incorrectly) was raised well before Roman Bednar's curling finish beat Petr Cech between the Chelsea sticks.
Slowly, the Chelsea machine lumbered into action. Michael Essien in particular was settling down, the dynamo of Chelsea's midfield keeping things rumbling along with a series of quick, clean, and clever passes, even while Mikel was struggling alongside him. For about ten minutes more, the game was evenly matched - West Brom getting particular joy down the Chelsea right, where Paulo Ferreira was simply not up to the task of dealing with winger Jerome Thomas, who sent in a series of probing crosses. Cech mopped them up fairly comfortably, as the Baggies seemed reluctant to pile up too much pressure in the Chelsea box.
Meanwhile, the Blues were going close at the other end. Albion's defence on free kicks, already exposed for the first goal, was once again called into question. Frank Lampard was the taker this time, his fiercely stuck shot ricocheting off the keeper to an unmarked Malouda, who seemed certain to score only to see his header loop over the bar. It wasn't long before Chelsea got their second, though, and it came five minutes later from a free kick in the same location.
Drogba won the free kick by some clever work in the centre right at the end of the first half, and chose to take it himself. He Drogba normally would have gotten a fair bit of stick for his effort, as although his shot was sweetly hit, it was right at the wall. Astonishingly, the players jumped out of the way, leaving Carson with the impossible task of scrambling across the goal and diving for the ball. By the time he got there, the net was rippling and it was two-nil Chelsea. Drogba had started his defence of the golden boot very well indeed.
When the half-time whistle blew, it didn't escape the notice of the fans that Chelsea, despite the scoreline, hadn't really played very well. They had been the beneficiaries of two gift goals on set pieces, but in open play it was entirely possible that the Baggies had been the better side. Certainly, there were periods of blue dominance, but it was hardly the display that was expected from the champions against a recently promoted team. Chief amongst those responsible for periods of sloppy play were right back Paulo Ferreira and holding midfielder Jon Obi Mikel. The former could perhaps be excused due to his position as the third choice to Jose Bosingwa and Branislav Ivanovic, both out injured, but the latter needs to watch out if he wants to hold on to his spot ahead of new acquisition Brazilian midfielder Ramires.
Albion started brightly again in the second, but it took them just eight minutes to fall further behind. Again there was poor play on a set piece, this time featuring an unmarked John Terry header bouncing off Youssuf Mulumbu on the line, but the Baggies failed to clear and Drogba was able to pounce on the loose ball inside the six yard box. There's only one outcome from there, and the Ivorian striker dispatched his second goal of the day with ease. Seconds after the restart, Ferreira went in much too hard on Thomas, earning the Portuguese a booking and prompting Carlo Ancelotti to yank him off the field, Branislav Ivanovic not getting his day off after all.
Chelsea were energised now, with West Brom's sole source of joy tightly sealed by the introduction of the Serbian at right back. The play became far more akin to the Chelsea of the end of last season, pass, move, flick, pushing the ball in unexpected and dangerous directions. Two minutes later Nicolas Anelka surged down the left, dragging defenders towards him before leaving the ball for Ashley Cole. His square pass went straight to Frank Lampard in the penalty area, who sold Carson a dummy before passing the ball straight into the back of the net. It was four, and the Blues were joint top of the Premier League with Blackpool (although technically behind on goal differential).
The goal was Lampard's last kick of the game, as the barely-fit England man made way for debutante Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli playmaker's first contribution to the game was to perform a quite lovely little breakdance on the Chelsea right as he was left spinning by the attentions of a Baggies defender on a 50/50 ball. West Brom replied to the goal with a pair of changes of their own, but it seemed like there was nothing di Matteo could do to make an impact with his team four down, and that any substitutions were an act of desperate futility.
It didn't stay four for long, though. Drogba receiving the ball at the edge of the area and thumping a shot goalwards. The ball took a big deflection off defender Gabriel Tamas before nestling comfortably in the net, the third of the day for Drogba. He was immediately replaced by his Ivorian compatriot Soloman Kalou in Chelsea's third and final switch, Ancelotti indicating that Drogba's job was well and truly done. It was around this point that Marilyn Monroe made an appearance in the crowd, the sight of the '50s star showing the huge steps that the Russian mafia has made in cloning technology in recent years*.
Chelsea turned off for the next few minutes, but never quite enough to give the Baggies hope, several players making uncharacteristically bad decisions as passes went astray or the ball was missed entirely. There was still room in the game for another goal, though, and the Blues got their sixth and final one when Anelka slipped Malouda into space in the penalty box. The Frenchman controlled the ball with a glorious touch, rounded the keeper, and clipped the ball in off the near post after being pushed wide. The rout was complete, and Chelsea had started their defence of the title in style.
- The 6-0 victory is the largest margin ever seen on a Premier League opening day.
- Chelsea are averaging seven goals per game over their past three league matches.
- Striker Didier Drogba now has hat-tricks in back to back Premier League fixtures.
- Midfielder Frank Lampard's goal scoring streak now stands at five games.
- Chelsea's defence has not let in a goal since the 2-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur on April 17th.
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*Please make a new Zola next! Not that there's anything wrong with Ms. Monroe, of course.