Thursday 12 December 2019

Familiar story at the Bridge


DION FANNING at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea moved back to the top of the Premier League yesterday. It is a familiar position for them, but, by late last night at Stamford Bridge, most people were thinking about the man who made Chelsea think there was nothing unusual about being top of the league.

Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan may have a 2-1 lead from the first leg of their Champions' League game but he will have several reasons to be apprehensive before the game on Tuesday. "I think the game is in the balance," Carlo Ancelotti said.

"I think they have an advantage on Inter because they need to score only one goal," Gianfranco Zola said. "They are playing against a very good side but also a manager who knows Chelsea well and he will be planning counter-measures. I would give a slight advantage to Chelsea."

Zola's West Ham were more involved in the game than the scoreline suggested and Chelsea have appeared vulnerable at Stamford Bridge as well as the San Siro but the players Mourinho left behind still provide the steel.

"I feel sorry for my players," Zola said afterwards, "they worked so hard." West Ham's boss felt the second Chelsea goal changed the game. It was a goal he blamed on defensive naivety. Two more Chelsea goals showed they have not lost the ability to ruthlessly punish those mistakes.

Florent Malouda may have created a lot that was good for Chelsea yesterday but Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard remain as important now as they were to Mourinho.

The Manchester City defeat seemed to have reminded Chelsea of the need for urgency in their title challenge and they started with some purpose. Florent Malouda had plenty of time on the left. He shot wide early on but was then a threat, with his crossing leading to Chelsea's first two goals before he scored the third.

With Anelka again wandering all over the pitch in search of the ball, Lampard and Michael Ballack were often closest to Didier Drogba in attack.

There were fleeting moments in the first half when Chelsea played with fluidity. Ballack teed up Drogba for a volley which was deflected for a corner but the game was strangely lifeless.

Chelsea should have been behind when Jonathan Spector and Mido bundled Paulo Ferreira off the ball. Mido knocked it into the path of Araujo Ilan but he shot over the bar from six yards.

Chelsea took the lead, as they had against City, and despite their warning, they believed it it would be easy.

Malouda was central to it, picking out a cross that was a welcome invitation. Alex had stayed forward and he charged onto it, heading past Robert Green to give Chelsea the lead.

Chelsea could have extended it within a minute. Anelka appeared to be fouled by Fabio Daprela as he went to head the ball. Drogba got there instead but the ball bounced off the top of the bar.

Scott Parker was another West Ham man with Chelsea connections and he was determined to bring his side back into the game. "He dominated the scene," Zola said. For the most part, this was through relentless industry, closing down Lampard when he could but just before the half hour he made a more attention-grabbing contribution.

Collecting the ball from a throw, Parker took it on his chest and hit a volley which the inexperienced Chelsea goalkeeper Ross Turnbull couldn't stop. Ancelotti confirmed later that Turnbull will start against Inter.

Chelsea had been here before and were determined not to be again. Green saved brilliantly from Lampard but a lunge from Terry on Parker was the only other suggestion in the first half that Chelsea were angered.

The interval seemed to be used as another reminder for Chelsea and they tried to start with some purpose. Within 10 minutes they led again. Terry advanced with the ball, played it to Drogba who knew that Malouda would be in space on the left. He was and again he had the time to cross. Drogba continued to move into the box and he raced onto Malouda's ball to head in and give Chelsea the lead.

Alex then had a header saved by Green with Terry again frustrated as he tried to knock in the rebound.

Zola had left Carlton Cole on the bench but his introduction for Mido who had given a comic performance brought more energy.

Chelsea had the ability to pick them off and, with 15 minutes left, they wrapped it up. Drogba knocked a long ball down to Malouda. The French international cut inside onto his left foot and placed the ball perfectly to Green's left.

Parker continued to play as if there was hope but West Ham's situation doesn't suggest much.

Joe Cole came on for Anelka and began to do the things Mourinho used to warn him against. He has always had the tendency to look like a player seduced by his own part in the entertainment industry, especially now as he auditions for a new contract.

Lampard, Terry and Drogba were always the driving forces. The fourth goal came when Green couldn't hold a Lampard shot. Drogba was there to get the goal his play deserved and ensure Chelsea can believe the title is theirs to throw away. Unfortunately they still look like they could throw it away.

On Tuesday night, Mourinho returns to a team which is still his team and he will point out that his side rarely threw it away. The retention of so many players from that era has been produced as evidence of his abilities. It is also evidence that Chelsea no longer spend the money they did in that era. He will tell a different story. He always does.

"Every game now decides our future," Ancelotti said. Especially when they face a man who created their past.

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