Chelsea dust off their blues thanks to Drogba
West Brom 1 Chelsea 3
Published 17/04/2011 | 05:00
West Brom are much improved under Roy Hodgson but Manchester United they are not, and Chelsea put a grim week behind them with a win much more convincing than the scoreline would suggest.
A repeat of the 6-0 drubbing they inflicted on Albion on the first day of the season would not have flattered them unduly, such was their overwhelming superiority on an afternoon when even Fernando Torres had the ball in the net -- only to be flagged offside.
Dropped after the midweek elimination from the Champions League, the Spaniard got on after 82 minutes, in place of Didier Drogba, but still had time to miscue horribly from close range. In mitigation, the offside decision that denied him his long-awaited first goal for Chelsea was borderline.
Hodgson, who had hoisted Albion to 10th in the table in a seven-match unbeaten run, said beforehand that he feared Torres opening his account.
Instead, Carlo Ancelotti reverted to the 4-3-3 formation his players prefer, omitting Torres and Nicolas Anelka and playing Drogba on his own through the middle. The big Ivorian responded with a herculean, man-of-the-match performance, scoring Chelsea's first goal and doing the spadework for the other two.
His contribution was a reminder of how much he has been missed in his various enforced absences, after surgery and with a bout of malaria. It is not unreasonable to suggest that had he been available more often Chelsea would not have fallen away so badly after their flying start. As it is, they are only a single point behind second-placed Arsenal.
It is almost certainly significant that yesterday's improvement came on a day when Drogba played as lone striker, without Torres or Anelka for company, for the first time since the £50m man's arrival.
Ancelotti gave an embarrassed smile when he was asked if he was still kicking himself for playing Torres, to the exclusion of Drogba, in the decisive leg of the Champions League quarter-final against United. "Maybe, but this is in the past", he said. "He played very well, but I have already spoken about this, and we have to look forward."
Eight points adrift of the league leaders, was the title still a realistic target? "I don't know, but we have a very clear aim -- to win the next six games and see what the other teams can do."
West Brom, brimming with confidence after successive wins against Liverpool and Sunderland, made the brighter start and after 17 minutes Jerome Thomas played in Peter Odemwingie, who beat Peter Cech to the ball before shooting into the untenanted goal.
Chelsea could conceivably have wilted had Albion been able to retain their lead for any length of time, but a daft mistake by Nicky Shorey enabled them to equalise within four minutes. Florent Malouda's cross from the left had run past the far post when Shorey inexplicably knocked it straight to Drogba, who plundered his 11th goal in the Premier League this season from 12 yards. It was the lift Chelsea needed and, passing the ball with increasing cohesion, they took complete control.
They were in front after 26 minutes when Scott Carson, going to his right, could only parry Drogba's drive from distance and Salomon Kalou dispatched the loose ball.
It was 3-1 just before half-time, with Drogba inevitably involved. He dispossessed Odemwingie on halfway before knocking the ball beyond Steven Reid for Malouda to chase, then supply a cross that Lampard, 16 yards out, tucked low into Carson's right-hand corner.
The margin could easily have been wider, Abdoulaye Meite deflecting a shot from Kalou against his own crossbar before Torres, set up by Malouda, rounded Carson and had the ball in the net, only to be flagged offside.
Given a second chance, from Malouda's free-kick, he miskicked horribly in front of goal.
What had Hodgson made of his first defeat? In a Cantona moment he said: "The Swedes have a saying that no tree grows to heaven, and we have been reminded that we are a very ordinary birch in the middle of West Bromwich and not something out of Jack and the Beanstalk." On a less esoteric note, he added: "We've had a wonderful spell, now we've got to learn how to lose. I don't think we can have any complaints. Chelsea were clearly the better side."
Sunday Indo Sport