Saturday 20 January 2018

Blues meet demand for style range

Anelka 8, 65, Malouda 17, A Cole 22, Lampard 34, 90, Ballack 52
Zenden 56, Bent 90

Mark Fleming

THE ONLY thing missing from this remarkable Chelsea performance was Roman Abramovich.

This was the most convincing win of the Abramovich era, and quite possibly the most majestic display by the side since his takeover in the summer of 2003. The Russian has spent £700m since then, over seven seasons, but was not present to witness his team score seven goals.

The message was relayed swiftly to the oligarch, however, that this was just what he has paid all that dough to see. Exciting, mesmerising, winning football. Barcelona in blue shirts. The Chelsea board was evidently delighted with what it had seen, convinced that finally the owner’s massive investment in the club was being reflected in the free-scoring manner of their football.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, recognises that winning is not enough for his demanding employers; it must be done with a style. He was told by Abramovich a year before he agreed to become manager that his side lacked “personality”. Ancelotti said that the Russian is now finally seeing the realisation of his dream for Chelsea.

“This team is the owner’s, it’s not mine. It is the team of Roman Abramovich and I am honoured to train this team,” Ancelotti said. “He likes to see Chelsea play like we did today. If we give enjoyment to our fans it’s good, it’s one of our aims. Will trophies follow? I don’t know but if we continue to play like that it’s very difficult to lose a game.”

Ancelotti is far too long in the tooth to go overboard about one victory, in the same way that he did not panic or lose his cool over the club’s period of indifferent results at the end of last year. His equanimity is one of the qualities that has most impressed Abramovich since he convinced Ancelotti to leave Milan last summer.

Abramovich missed a rare treat on Saturday. Chelsea’s multitalented stars were given the freedom to showcase their creative side, and it all came together in a bewitching display of attacking brilliance. This was not the pragmatic Chelsea of the Mourinho era, when functionality was the order of the day; nor was it the muscular Chelsea of earlier games, when they bullied the opposition into submission. This was a far more intuitive, expressive Chelsea, something not seen from them for quite some time.

The absence of Chelsea’s African quartet, particularly the loss of top scorer Didier Drogba, was meant to leave them vulnerable; in fact it has done the opposite, by encouraging Chelsea to play in a less physical, more fluid manner. The essence of this more artistic Chelsea was embodied in Nicolas Anelka, back in the side after a month out with a hamstring injury.

With the elegant Anelka leading the attack, rather than the more brutal Drogba, Chelsea were forced to adapt their style, ditching the midfield diamond in favour of an attacking triumvirate with Joe Cole and Florent Malouda lying just behind the central striker. Their football was instantly more flowing and once the tap had been opened Sunderland could find no way off turning it off.

This was not one of those highscoring affairs, such as Tottenham’s 9-1 thrashing of Wigan in November, when one side rattles in the goals in the closing stages of the game. Chelsea had already missed three good chances by the time Anelka put them ahead after eight minutes, and they continued to batter Sunderland, hitting the post twice as well as scoring seven goals.

In the words of the Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce: “Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say we just had our backsides well and truly kicked.”

Anelka was the key to Chelsea’s win, scoring after eight minutes from a deft pass from Michael Ballack and adding a second later in the match when the Sunderland ’keeper Marton Fulop made a hash of a punch clear. Fulop, however, denied Anelka the hat-trick he had managed in the corresponding game last season, which Chelsea won 5-0. The Hungarian keeper twice denied Anelka with his feet, and kept out a fizzing long-range effort with a bit of help from the bar and post.

Frank Lampard also scored twice, a close-range volley and a powerful header, while Ballack with a header, Florent Malouda with a solo strike and Ashley Cole with a Dennis Bergkampesque touch and finish rounded off the scoring. Cole’s was the pick of the bunch, a magnificent piece of control and skill following a divine pass from John Terry.

Sunderland, who had eight first-team players missing through injury and suspension, never lost heart, even though the scoreline could have been double figures, and scored twice through Boudewijn Zenden and Darren Bent. Their captain, Lorik Cana, said: “We are all shocked by what happened. We are all professionals and we know we have to be better than that.”

For Chelsea, the opposite is true. It would be hard to be better than this. It is just a shame Abramovich was not there to see it.

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry (Alex, h-t), A Cole (Zhirkov, h-t); Ballack, Belletti, Lampard; J Cole, Malouda; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ferreira, Sturridge, Matic, Borini.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Cana, Da Silva, McCartney; Malbranque (Zenden, h-t), Henderson, Meyler, Murphy (Campbell, 72); Bent, Jones. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), L Noble, Healy, R Noble, Liddle.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Sunderland Bardsley.

Man of the match: Anelka.

Attendance: 41,776.

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