Monday 19 February 2018

Ancelotti pleased to dig out result with jet-lagged Blues

Chelsea 2 Wolves 0

Stephen Hunt shakes hands with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech after the final whistle at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Hunt was involved in a collision with the Cech resulting in a fractured skull for the Chelsea goalkeeper four years ago. Photo: Nick Potts
Stephen Hunt shakes hands with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech after the final whistle at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Hunt was involved in a collision with the Cech resulting in a fractured skull for the Chelsea goalkeeper four years ago. Photo: Nick Potts

From Russia without oomph.

Chelsea tackled this domestic chore as if drained by their mid-week trek to Moscow and although they eventually stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points and extended their 100 per cent record at Stamford Bridge for the campaign, this was a far from perfect performance.

"We didn't play so well," admitted Carlo Ancelotti, who at times winced from the sideline. "We did not play as clearly as we have done at times this season but it was a difficult week with the travelling to Moscow. It is important to win when you're not at your best."

The sight of Wolves joint top-scorer, Steven Fletcher, on the bench before kick-off may have indicated that Mick McCarthy had abandoned the adventurous formation with which he has been experimenting in recent weeks but it quickly transpired that his team had not come solely to defend.

The visitors began boldly and monopolised possession for the first five minutes, which were played entirely in the hosts' half. However, Chelsea, who have yet to concede a goal at home this term, remained unruffled and soon, with minimal effort, gained a degree of control. At no point, however, could they be considered dominant, and slovenliness was often apparent. That, as well as neat play by McCarthy's men, meant their victory was at times in jeopardy.

The home team did produce the game's first shot on target, in the 11th minute, but Marcus Hahnemann saved well from Jose Bosingwa, the right-back who looked sprightly during his first start after almost a year out with torn knee ligaments. Yet too many of his team-mates were guilty of occasional negligence as Wolves, always tidy and thoughtful if a little too predictable, were able to forge intermittent chances.

The conception of the one in the 19th minute was especially artful, as an intricate move culminated with a Kevin Foley cross from the right and a powerful downward header from an unmarked Dave Edwards was saved by Petr Cech . Wolves replicated that manoeuvre a couple of minutes later and Cech again had to intervene.

Within seconds Chelsea made Wolves rue those misses. With Yuri Zhirkov responsible for raiding down the left, Florent Malouda was deployed in a more central role than usual and he frequently found space in the middle, most tellingly for the opening goal. Nicolas Anelka combined neatly with Zhirkov before the latter picked out Malouda unmarked near the penalty spot, and the Frenchman side-footed nonchalantly past Hahnemann.

Anelka fired into the side-netting from the edge of the area after a flowing move in the 26th minute and Drogba went close after a short free-kick from Malouda 10 minutes later.

Between those two efforts Nenad Milijas kept Cech on his toes with a couple of shots from long range. Wolves' best chance came just before the break, when Doyle eluded his marker but mis-timed his header when picked out by Matthew Jarvis.

Those opportunities were enough to further embolden McCarthy, who rejigged his team during the break to make it more attacking. Withdrawing left-back Jelle van Damme also enabled Stephen Hunt to make his injury-delayed debut. The Irish winger was greeted with boos by the locals, who still hold him responsible for the fractured skull suffered by Cech in a collision with him in 2006.

Hunt nearly made himself even more unpopular with the home fans by scoring soon after his arrival, but Michael Essien cleared his diving header off the line in the 47th minute.

Typically, it was Essien who led the attempts to rouse Chelsea from their lethargy. He embarked on a trademark charge through midfield in the 58th minute, only for his shot from the edge of the area to be inadvertently blocked by Malouda. Just after the hour mark he ventured forward again, and this time fed Anelka, who rifled over from 20 yards.

The most substandard Chelsea player was Didier Drogba, who was returning to the team after a virus. The 64th minute brought an indication that his recuperation is not complete, as he raced onto a long pass from Branislav Ivanovic and then, with Hahnemann stranded outside the box, dawdled uncharacteristically, allowing the goalkeeper to scramble the ball away.

"He (Drogba) was not precise in his play, he lost a lot of balls," said Ancelotti. "But after the illness he needed to play with the team and get comfortable on the pitch."

Ancelotti introduced Salomon Kalou late on in a bid to kill Wolves' off and, in the 81st minute, the Ivorian obliged. Drogba linked slickly with Essien before the Ghanaian slipped the ball into the path of Kalou, who slotted calmly under Hahnemann from eight yards. Relief for Ancelotti, regrets for McCarthy.

"It was a very good performance, we just lacked a bit of devilment in front of goal," said the Wolves manager.


Sunday Independent

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