Sunday 25 February 2018

Drogba grabs hat-trick in Blues statement of intent

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 bookmakers were last night already quoting odds on Chelsea remaining at the summit of the Premier League all the way until May.

Half of Chelsea's outfield team may have been involved in torrid World Cup campaigns with England or France but, for 90 minutes yesterday, it was as if the summer never happened for the likes of Florent Malouda, Ashley Cole, Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard.

Chelsea had ended last season with respective 8-0 and 7-0 home thrashings of Wigan and Stoke. For Ruud Gullit's first public return to Stamford Bridge since departing as manager in 1998, this was an appropriate demonstration of sexy football. Yet Chelsea do also continue to win football matches rather more easily than new friends. Having won the double last season, John Terry declared in his programme notes that a repeat of the most successful season in the club's history was the "minimum" requirement for this campaign.

Chairman Bruce Buck was even more daring in answering Joe Cole's declaration that, in Liverpool, he was joining the biggest club in England. "Joe Cole has gone to a smallish club somewhere north of the M25," wrote Buck.

A subtle transformation in Carlo Ancelotti's playing squad has been unfolding this summer, with new £18m signing Ramires introduced to the crowd before the match.

The most important addition might yet prove to be Michael Essien, who is back to full fitness. With Essien immediately driving his team forward, Chelsea were a goal ahead within six minutes. Malouda had been upended on the edge of the penalty area by Pablo Ibanez to present Drogba with his first sight of goal.

Drogba's free-kick went straight at Scott Carson and was duly spilled by the former England keeper, with the rebound pounced upon by John Obi Mikel, who hooked the ball across the penalty area for Malouda to finish.

Robert di Matteo's team allowed too much space for Chelsea's midfield and, when the second goal did arrive, there was no surprise that it should come from another set piece.

Drogba looked a little too far from goal to present any major danger, but his free-kick got through the West Brom wall and inside Carson's near post.

West Brom had not scored a league goal at Stamford Bridge since 1988 and they failed to change that statistic, with Drogba further extending Chelsea's lead in the 56th minute. Once again, the goal came from a set-piece as Terry and Anelka both had efforts blocked before Drogba scrambled the ball in.

Lampard also continued his remarkable goalscoring of last season by wrong-footing Carson to finish Chelsea's fourth following more excellent work from Malouda. The rout was then completed when Drogba long-range shot took a cruel deflection off Gabriel Tamas and, in the 90th minute, Malouda scored his second.


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