Chelsea lay down gauntlet
Kalou 24 31 68, Lampard 44, pen 81, Sturridge 87, Malouda 89
STOKE CITY 0
IN HIS programme notes Frank Lampard revealed that the switch of this fixture to a Sunday meant that he was an absentee best man at his friend’s wedding yesterday.
In the end it proved so easyforChelsea that no-one would have blamed him for leaving at half-time to make it in time for the speeches.
There have been wobbles from Carlo Ancelotti’s team this season but yesterday was a vintage performance; one in which they blew their opponents away in the tradition of the very best we have witnessed from this club in the modern era. It was one of those days when the sun shone in west London and the goals just kept on coming.
If Manchester United were looking for a glimpse of weakness in the team that they must overhaul in order to win the title over the remaining two games of the season then they will not have spotted it yesterday. “Are you watching Manchester?” Stamford Bridge asked towards the end of the game. Of course they were and they will not have liked what they saw.
As the remains of Stoke City are scraped off the road, the Chelsea juggernaut now heads north to Liverpool on Sunday. The defining moment in Chelsea’s pursuit of their third Premier League title will come at Anfield, the scene of some of their greatest triumphs and most crushing lows of the Roman Abramovich era. As usual it should be a classic.
In the days of Jose Mourinho, when Chelsea’s domination of English football was routine for two years, Anfield stood as an outpost of resistance – never more so than the Champions League semi-final of 2005. Chelsea have not always lost there but even in spite of the form they showed yesterday, come Sunday they will still feel that old gnawing uncertainty when they walk into Anfield.
Yesterday’s win over Burnley means Liverpool are still in the hunt for the fourth Champions League place, although only just. Beating Chelsea may well hand Manchester United that 19th league title which means they pass Liverpool’s total but if Rafael Benitez is to be in the Champions League next year – with Liverpool rather than Juventus – then his team will have to do it anyway.
Before then, Chelsea can savour their third seven-goal haul of the season after Sunderland and Aston Villa on a day on which they made mincemeat of one of the Premier League’s most awkward customers. Chelsea are five goals away from the record for the most goals scored in a Premier League season and yesterday they could have had many more than seven.
Unlike the unconvincing home win against Bolton, and the defeat to Tottenham last Saturday, there was a purpose about Chelsea – epitomised by Salomon Kalou whose hat-trick was the first in his four years at Stamford Bridge. Kalou has not always been the most reliable assassin in Chelsea’s forward line but yesterday his aim was unerring.
Of equal significance was the form of Didier Drogba who was poor against Spurs but played a crucial role in three Chelsea goals. Lampard was the dominant figure in midfield and it was a good job he did not leave at half-time because that would have deprived us of the sweetest finish of all: an awkward knee high cross that he clipped in first time with the outside of his right boot for the fifth.
It did not help Stoke that they lost their goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to injury in the course of conceding Chelsea’s second on 31 minutes. With their Danish international on the pitch there might have been fewer goals but there would have been no difference about the outcome of the game.
The Stoke goalkeeper had made three very good saves when he spilled the ball from Lampard’s shot and Kalou dived in two-footed to force the ball over the line, catching Sorensen as he did. Had it happened elsewhere on the pitch Kalou might have put himself in danger of being dismissed but referee Steve Bennett did not regard it as worthy of a booking.
It was a bleak day for the Stoke manager Tony Pulis whose side showed none of the backbone that has kept them in the Premier League this year.
They were unfortunate with the first half injuries to Sorensen and Abdoulaye Faye but their afternoon will chiefly be remembered for Dave Kitson telling the Stoke bench to “fuck off” when hewas substituted in the second half.
In fairness that is probably exactly what Stoke felt like doing. They were already 3-0 down by then. Kalou had scored a diving header in the 24th minute after Drogba had controlled a ball played behind him with a lovely piece of skill. Kalou scored the second.
Then Lampard scored a penalty on 43 minutes after Robert Huth had dragged Kalou down in comedy fashion. Joe Cole came on for Kalou after the latter has completed his hat-trick on 68 minutes – the third a rebound from his own shot. The goals came thick and fast from there. First Lampard’s beautifully-taken goal from Sam Hutchinson’s cross for the fifth. Then substitute Daniel Sturridge went round the goalkeeper Asmir Begovic running onto Drogba’s pass.
The final goal came from Florent Malouda who had earlier missed unforgivably when Nicolas Anelka crossed in the 72nd minute. The match also marked the return to the starting XI of Ashley Cole who played like he had never been away.
Ancelotti’s only regret? “I would have liked to have saved three of those goals for next week.’’
Just two more wins will wrest the title from Manchester United’s hands for the first time in four years but a much more formidable opponent than Stoke awaits at Anfield.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Ferreira (Hutchinson, 73), Ivanovic, Alex, A Cole; Malouda, Ballack, Lampard Kalou (J Cole, 71); Anelka (Sturridge, 79), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Zhirkov, Belletti, Van Aanholt.
Stoke (4-4-2): Sorensen (Begovic, 36); Higginbotham, Ab Faye (Shawcross, 9), Huth, Collins; Whitehead, Whelan, Delap, Etherington; Fuller, Kitson (Tuncay, 59). Substitutes not used: Lawrence, Beattie, Pugh, Wilkinson.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Stoke Whitehead, Huth.
Man of the match: Kalou.