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Analysis: West Bromwich Albion at Chelsea

KANSAS CITY MO - JULY 25:  A detail of a Premier League ball prior to the game between Manchester United and the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium on July 25 2010 in Kansas City Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY MO - JULY 25: A detail of a Premier League ball prior to the game between Manchester United and the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium on July 25 2010 in Kansas City Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Team Shape: 4-3-3, with the second band seeing Lampard slightly advanced in the 4-(2-1)-3 variant. West Brom replied with a 4-2-3-1, but their lines were less disciplined than one might expect and regularly broken. The formation wasn't tested sufficiently to determine its efficacy against top-level opponents. Substitutions were like-for-like until Soloman Kalou replaced Drogba and played a little deeper than his senior Ivorian teammate, but it was so late in the game and Chelsea were so utterly dominant shape was more or less irrelevant at that point - it was all about the flow of players here there and everywhere causing space.

Before the jump, let's have another man-of-the-match poll:

1-0 Chelsea: Malouda and Lampard combine to turn a lose ball in the centre circle into a diagonal ball down the Chelsea left, chased by Ashley Cole. The left back takes a touch and sends a pass to Didier Drogba, lurking near the top of the West Brom area. The striker lays the ball lays the ball into the path of Malouda, making a curving run from left to right between two Albion midfielders. Malouda wrong-foots the centre back before trying to push right and into the area; the defender has to lunge for the ball and ends up stepping on the Frenchman's left foot instead for a free kick about 23 yards from goal. Drogba's right-footed effort is hit straight at Carson, but the keeper fluffs his catch and spills the ball to Jon Obi Mikel following in. The Nigerian is able to slip the ball square to Malouda, who nutmegs the defender on the line for the opener.

This goal was more the result of poor defending than anything else, although the initial set of passes that led to the free kick were excellent, particularly the ball that Lampard played to Ashley Cole on the left. Drogba's layoff was also textbook target forward play. Mikel's pass was also more difficult than it looked with Carson all over him, but it was a gift goal nonetheless. The defenders should have been anticipating an error on Carson's part and been on hand to mop up.

2-0 Chelsea: Mikel passes the ball to Essien in the right channel, who receives possession and is immediately pressured by three West Brom players. He slips past one and tries to skip through but is shoved in the back and pushed off the ball by another, and Chelsea are given another goal kick perhaps thirty yards out. Carson sets off a four-man wall and Drogba shoots again, putting the ball chest-high between the two right-hand wall defenders and straight into the bottom right corner of the goal. Carson, covering at the far post, had no chance to make a save.

I don't think that Essien holds onto the ball if he isn't fouled, and the pass to him wasn't a great idea in the first place with his run set to lead him into a thicket of Baggie defenders. The shot from Drogba wasn't a good one, as the gap in the wall only appeared after he struck it - he certainly wasn't aiming for it! Scott Carson might have done better as the ball wasn't stuck that well. Another gift.

3-0 Chelsea: Malouda takes a quick throw in by the right corner flag to Drogba, but the ball is intercepted by Tamas and guided out of play for a corner kick. Malouda takes the corner and hits it to John Terry, making a run from the penalty spot towards the right corner of the six yard box. The captain's header is deflected by Anelka but cleared off the line; a short scramble resulting in a bobbling ball through the melee to Drogba, who creams a shot into the top right corner from five yards with Scott Carson stranded.

The delivery from the corner is great, but this is awful defending from a set-piece once again. Nobody picks up John Terry's run, and West Brom were lucky that Anelka's intelligent deflection was stopped on the line in the first place.Then there's the stroke of corresponding bad luck when the ball falls lose to Drogba. I'm not giving the Ivorian credit for being able to put it into an essentially empty net from five yards, but he did so quite enthusiastically while two defenders are attempting to nick the ball off his toes. Also, leaving Terry unmarked on a corner is insane.

4-0 Chelsea: Mikel mops up a West Brom attack deep inside Chelsea territory, playing the ball down the left to Malouda. Essien and Mikel perform holdup duty until Cole is in position to make a run in behind the defence, and when Anelka advances towards the penalty area, one of the centre halves rushes out to make a challenge. Instead of shooting, Anelka slips the ball to Cole, who is unmarked by on his weaker right foot. Instead of shooting, he pushes the ball square to Lampard, who has a choice between shooting or letting the ball run to Florent Malouda. Lampard controls and looks for the far post. Carson commits to a dive, and is beat by a passed shot at his near post instead.

Fed up of defending poorly on set-pieces, Albion decide to take a break during open play for variety's sake. Although Anelka shaped up to take a shot, he was never fully committed to doing so, making Tamas's (I think?) decision to rush out and try to block his shot pretty-ill advised. His absence caused a hole in the back which Cole and Lampard exploited effortlessly.

5-0 Chelsea: Ashley Cole is fed by Drogba and drives to the touchline to put in a cross only to lose the ball when he tries to juke two West Brom players at once. He composes himself to challenge for the ball again, doing enough to froce a short, inaccurate pass to Drogba on the left corner of the area. Drogba ignores Michael Essien who is unmarked and screaming for the ball in the centre, instead opting to send a vicious right-footed shot right at Tamar's head. The deflection wrong-foots Carson and the ball cannons in at the near post.

Good play by Ashley Cole here in harrying the defender as soon as he loses the ball. The sliding pass/clearance that resulted in the ball going to Drogba was as a result of the pressure the Chelsea left-back applied as soon as possession switched. Drogba probably should have passed to Essien, but his shot was excellent; I don't think Carson saves it at the far post even if it wasn't deflected in.

6-0 Chelsea: Yossi Benayoun picks the ball up from Michael Essien at the Albion edge of the centre circle, then sends over a pass to Mikel in acres of space to the right. Anelka, playing in the hole between the defence and midfield, is also unmarked and thus an easy target for the next pass. Malouda breaks on a diagonal run from left to right, and Anelka lifts the ball over the static defence to his French teammate, who is well onside. Malouda takes a touch to control, another to ease the ball past Carson, and the third puts the ball into the net off the near post. Superb.

The key play here is clearly the ball Anelka plays over the top, exploiting the defence's inability to read non-direct play. As soon as he turns around he spots the run, and half a second later the ball is already on its way to put Malouda one-on-one with Carson. Take particular note of Malouda's body shape as he puts the ball in off the post - it's a much harder shot than it looks and he takes it perfectly.

Notable Performances

Ghana midfielder Michael Essien started the game with a rough first twenty minutes before settling down and bossing things from midfield. He even displayed some nice little tricks in getting past defenders - seeing the ball get daintily dinked in midair by a man who can run through brick walls is incredibly endearing. One think I noticed about Essien during the game is how exceptionally fast he is in possession relative to his off-ball speed, and it's because he has such good close control that he can keep the ball within a few inches of where his stride needs to be. It was an impressive performance by Essien despite not much involvement with the actual goals. He's back, league. You are on notice.

It would be remiss to fail to mention hat-trick hero Didier Drogba, who has now scored seven goals in his last three league games and instantly jumps to the head of the scoring charts after weekend number one. Two of his goals were as a direct result of poor defending and the last took a lucky deflection, but after a weak first half he used his strength effectively to terrify the West Brom defence and force them to commit far too many resources to stopping him, allowing his teammates more freedom in passing.

Paulo Ferreira, deputy right back, was the clear weak link in the Chelsea side for much of the game. Adequate going forward, he was caught out for pace repeatedly by Baggie left wing Jerome Thomas, allowing West Brom to pepper the Chelsea box with crosses during periods of possession. The Portuguese capped off his evening with a booking, forcing Carlo Ancelotti to replace him with Branislav Ivanovic, who would have started in his spot but for a slight injury. As soon as Ivanovic came in, the right side was sealed up.

Chelsea's defence was challenged repeatedly during the first half, but that was not the fault of the centre halves, who typically played very well indeed. Instead, West Brom kept possession perhaps twenty yards in front of the Chelsea lines, and when they picked up the ball they weren't immediately challenged. This is the area that Jon Obi Mikel needed to be holding court, and his sloppy play was primarily responsible for the period of Baggie dominance immediately after the first goal. Mikel's passing was initially poor, but he improved markedly on both sides of the ball after the first half as Essien began pushing forward more regularly. A lack of communication in the Chelsea game plan causing confusion in the ranks, perhaps? Regardless, against stronger opposition, the Blues won't be able to afford any wobbles from their holding players.

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