FT:- 2-1 (Anelka 53, Malouda 83; Long 4)
Chelsea:- Hilario, Ashley Cole, Bosingwa, Terry(c), Alex (Ivanovic 66), Ramires, Lampard, Mikel, Torres (Drogba 59), Kalou (Malouda 34), Anelka. Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Benayoun, McEachran
Bookings:- Terry (89, Violent Conduct), Lampard (34, Foul)
West Brom:- Foster, Olsson, Shorey, Tamas, Tchoyi (Odemwingie 75), James Morrison, Brunt (c), Steven Reid, Mulumbu (Dorrans 87), Scharner, Long. Subs Not Used: Fulop, Marek Cech, Jara, McAuley, Simon Cox
Bookings:- Tamas (7, Foul), Mulumbu (44, Foul), Olsson (60, Foul), Odemwingie (90, Foul)
Both these teams came away from their opening matches with less than their performances had warranted. Torres was looking hungry for goals at Chelsea, but Stoke frustrated new manager Villas-Boas on his Premier League bow. With Cech injured, reserve keeper Hilario has been given the keepers jersey ahead of young England prospect Turnbull. West Brom had the most unenviable of opening fixtures against defending champions Utd. However the promise of new signing Shane Long and creative midfielder Somen Tchoyi almost lead an organised Hodgson side to a surprise point, if not a shock victory. As a result Hodgson has kept faith with the same starting eleven this week, even though star striker Odemwingie has shown his commitment to the club by signing a new contract last week.
For the second consecutive weekend West Brom saw a potential point slip away from them in the final ten minutes. Unlike last weekend though, Chelsea looked good for their win, dominating the match from about the half hour mark. Villas-Boas is clearly still feeling his way into the job, as he rotated the team a little, giving Kalou, Bosingwa, Alex and Anelka run-outs. The manager will have been less than impressed by the input of the Brazilian centre-back, who after just four minutes managed to get caught in possession by the always alert Long, who then managed to steer the ball into the bottom left corner of Hilario’s goal. It was a sloppy piece of play and more was to follow as throughout the first thirty minutes of this match Chelsea frequently over-elaborated whilst in possession and casually ceded control of the midfield to the quickly countering Tchoyi, Morrison and Scharner.
In these early stages West Brom were comfortably holding their own, although Hodgson will have been frustrated with the lack of penetration his side have shown when clearly in control of the game. Too often WBA got the ball out wide only to send pointless crosses into the box, which both Terry and Alex (neither of whom are vertically challenged) could lap up all day long. The need to mix up their approach play was apparent from about fifteen minutes in, but with the exception of an exquisite pass from Brunt that released Scharner for a shot on goal, West Brom failed to offer a more effective attacking threat to Chelsea.
Aware that his side were not functioning well in the midfield and the attacking final third, Villas-Boas took Kalou off after 34 mins, introducing Malouda to the fray and pulling Anelka out wide. Anelka’s enigmatic influence was felt to full effect in the second half, but even toward the end of the first Chelsea were beginning to look more balanced, with Lampard forcing a Mulumbu to make a reckless challenge late-on and Ashley Cole getting a first-class save from the impressive Foster.
Villas-Boas is clearly a studious analyst, as Chelsea came out at the start of the second half with a much more aggressive pressing game, played higher up the pitch. The speed of Malouda and the craftiness of Anelka, was allied to the overlapping runs of both Cole and Bosingwa (who had a fantastic second half), giving Chelsea much more width and forcing WBA’s midfield and defence further back.
After an exceptional performance last weekend at Stoke (with no reward), Torres looked a little jaded against the Baggies. In spite of this he was a crucial component of Chelsea’s early equaliser. As Anelka spellbindingly wove his way down the right flank, he got around Shorey and delivered a beautiful pass into Torres who was muscled of the ball by Tamas. Torres persisted though and winning the ball back drifted out wide before cutting it back in for Anelka to finish with the help of a slight deflection. It was a great piece of skill from Anelka that had started the move and the luck on the finish was the least that he deserved.
WBA were clearly rattled but they almost restored their lead from the kick-off, as James Morrison got a beautiful cross into the back post from the leftwing, which Scharner could only send high over the bar from 2 yards out. With Chelsea increasingly in control of the game Torres was foiled by an alert Foster and a fantastic diving block from Steven Reid prevented a certain goal as Malouda followed up. This was Torres’ last significant involvement and on the hour Drogba replaced him.
However the key player on the pitch for Chelsea was now the free-roving Bosingwa who was operating wonderfully on the overlap with Anelka. WBA were still posing an intermittent threat, Tchoyi producing the save of the match from Hilario, but with the arrival of the Ivanovic’s creativity from the back (a 66th minute substitution for the disappointing Alex) Drogba and Lampard were looking much more dangerous, both benefiting from wonderful long passes from the Serbian.
The game was settled in style as Bosingwa drove between Brunt and Olsson down the right and then delivered a perfectly measured cross to the back post where Florent Malouda was arriving at speed to power home. Villas-Boas joy was obvious and it will have been even more reassuring for the young Portuguese manager to see his side barely let go of their stranglehold on proceedings. With three minutes left in the match West Brom had their last real chance when Steven Reid found the substitute Odemwingie with a lofted pass into the box. Odemwingie could only fire his volley straight at Hilario, who had one of his better matches in a Chelsea shirt. All that was left in the game was a gentle reminder of the detestable arrogance of Chelsea captain John Terry, who for some inexplicable reason felt the need to run fifteen yards to grab Odemwingie by the shirt collar and give him a mouthful. Quite what this was about, only Terry knows, but thankfully Odemwingie showed far more restraint and can feel hard done by to receive a booking moments after this incident, for seemingly getting tangled up with Ashley Cole.
In the end Chelsea fans must surely be happy with an impressive second half performance that showed the team were able to get to grips with the fast-passing requirements of their manager. Whilst West Brom can take comfort from the fact that if they continue to equip themselves as well as they have in the last two games, they will surely win matches against weaker sides than the Top four.
My MOM:- Nicolas Anelka – One of the most frustrating and gifted talents of his generation managed to put on the kind of display that saw him snapped up by Real Madrid as a youngster at Arsenal. Anelka may not have nearly as much pace as he did in those days, but he still has the ability to run at defenders and his movement down both flanks was essential in bringing Bosingwa so successfully into the match in the second half.
And Another Thing…:- Were WBA trying to strike a bit of fear into the Chelsea side by donning an away kit that made them look suspiciously like Man Utd? Unfortunately it looked less like the Man Utd of the Ferguson era and more like the Man Utd of the Atkinson one that preceded it.