Saturday 20 January 2018

Welbeck shines as patched-up Blues torn apart

Chelsea 0
Sunderland 3

Sam Wallace

IF the dismissal of Ray Wilkins last week was intended to show that Chelsea are still a ruthless, single-minded machine whose simple focus is on winning football matches, then unfortunately someone seems to have forgotten to tell Carlo Ancelotti's players.

They were swept aside yesterday as brutally as they dismissed their affable assistant manager and former player last week.

A case of bad karma? Rather, it was a case of terrible defending by a makeshift Chelsea back four and the champions lacking the kind of momentum to make any impression.

Even amid the results of another surprising weekend in an unpredictable Premier League season, there are certain things you think you can rely upon.

Chief among them is Chelsea winning at home in the league. The scale of Sunderland's victory can be explained thus:

This was Chelsea's heaviest Premier League home defeat since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003; the visitors had lost their last 11 matches against Chelsea, had shipped seven goals here last season and Steve Bruce had not won, as a top-flight manager, in the capital since 2004.

Chelsea conceded their first goal at home in the league in 916 minutes when Nedum Onuoha put Sunderland ahead five minutes before first-half injury time and Ancelotti conceded his team were simply never in the game after that.

"I think so [that it was the poorest performance since taking over in June 2009]. The performance was poor, but in football it can happen if you're not at your best and don't play with your best mentality.

"We have to come back, stay focused on our results -- it could only be one day that is poor.

"All the things were wrong: we didn't play how we wanted to, Sunderland showed fantastic spirit and played better. We were not able to come back into the game. It was a bad day. We were not able to play our football for 90 minutes. Just 15 minutes in the first half. Everything was difficult. We have to look forward now; it was a strange performance."

For Ancelotti, this result can hardly be described as a crisis, with his team still top of the Premier League but, after defeat at Liverpool last week, it did offer a dark warning of what this Chelsea team might look like if the wheels come off.

Ashley Cole was all over the place -- his wayward back-pass gifted the third goal -- and Ramires was so poor that his substitution drew the biggest cheer of the day.

Ancelotti needs the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and John Terry -- a late withdrawal yesterday -- back in the side as soon as possible.

The smart money would say that when injuries heal and suspensions end, these two defeats will be regarded as blips on the season. Even so, there is no denying it has been a dreadful eight days for Chelsea.

The sacking of Wilkins is unquantifiable when it comes to results such as these but in the light of yesterday it does look as if it has rocked the boat unnecessarily.

"Everyone is sad to see him go," wrote Terry in programme notes that were only just on-message. "Ray's been brilliant since he came in -- not only as a coach but as a man as well."

That said, there would not have been much even Wilkins could have done yesterday other than pat Ancelotti on the back and commiserate that sometimes you have days likes these. The last time Chelsea suffered a defeat as heavy as this in the league at home was to Manchester United in April 2002, some time before they were established in the European elite.

It could have been much worse for them if, as he should have been, Branislav Ivanovic had been sent off for tripping up the excellent Danny Welbeck as he bore down on the penalty area on 40 minutes. There was no final defender between the Sunderland striker and goal and Ivanovic was fortunate to receive only a yellow card.

The central defensive partnership between Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira was a disaster and why the Portuguese full-back was preferred to Jeffrey Bruma is a mystery.

Sunderland pulled Chelsea apart with the kind of one-touch passing that Ancelotti's team have trade-marked. Above all, Welbeck lived up to the billing that Alex Ferguson gave him when he tipped the 19-year-old to make the England squad for the last World Cup.

Two weeks on from that crushing 5-1 defeat to Newcastle, Steve Bruce's team find themselves in a very different mood and up to sixth in the Premier League.

Their manager deserves much of the credit for an approach which he summarised thus: "Sod it, let's have a go" -- the philosophy behind playing two strikers, rather than the one opposition teams usually deploy at Stamford Bridge.

Bruce's reasoning was that so many teams come to Chelsea in fear of, as Bruce said, a "humiliation", that the home side have forgotten what it is like to play against two strikers.

But for the plan to work you need two very good strikers and Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan filled those roles.

The second goal was a beauty: from Bolo Zenden to Welbeck and Jordan Henderson, who played in Gyan on goal to score.

Cole had looked out of sorts all day and may be carrying an injury but he has not made a mistake like yesterday's since he gave the ball away for England against Kazakhstan two years ago.

With three minutes remaining, he passed the ball back to Cech without looking and Welbeck moved in to score Sunderland's third. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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