Saturday 21st August – Away to Wigan.

Chelsea starting line-up:

Petr Čech, Ivanovich, Alex, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Essien, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka.

In 2009 Wigan inflicted a rare defeat on Chelsea, testament to manager Roberto Martinez’s determination to play expansive attacking football at home. And although Wigan started well, shading possession and looking very capable during the first 15 minutes or so there was to be no slip-up this time round.

Chelsea continued to look a little diffident up to the first goal on 33 minutes, with some sloppy passing and Wigan playing a high offside line that saw Anelka and Drogba repeatedly caught out. But the first time Chelsea found their game, with what has come to be a trade-mark team goal, the likelihood of Wigan having a good day at the office receded rapidly. Kirkland managed to palm Lampard’s effort out, but only as far as Malouda, whose reaction was just that bit quicker than the Wigan defence.

For the remainder of the first half Chelsea seemed content to concede occasional possession to Wigan as long as attacking chances were limited to shots from outside the box, and although several were on target none troubled Čech, who looked confident and in control throughout.

Shortly after the break another such Wigan attack broke down and Mikel found Anelka with a perfectly weighted 50 yard diagonal pass. Kirkland’s attempt to limit Anelka’s angle couldn’t prevent him finding the net with a very welcome, and well deserved, first goal of the season for the French striker. And just a couple of minutes later Didier Drogba’s assist helped Nico to his second.

We’ve become accustomed to Anelka operating more as a playmaker than striker since Drogba returned from injury last season, and he’s certainly reinvented himself very successfully in this new role, his change of pace, ability to hold the ball up and vision an often decisive factor in Drogba’s winning the golden boot. Gone are days of pundits saying the two couldn’t play together, and that Ancelotti would have to settle on one or the other. But when the partnership started to gel even the most farsighted of them never suggested that it could work both ways, with Drogba supplying the assists and Anelka putting the ball in the back of the net. And it’s not hard to imagine this turning into a very potent weapon in the search for the elusive Champions league success this season.

Wigan didn’t give up, with Boselli finding the back of the net on 61 minutes, only to have his effort ruled offside. And shortly afterwards Ivanovich, whose tackling had, deservedly, earned him a yellow card in the 36th minute, was replaced by Paulo Ferriera in a reverse of the game against WBA, when Ferriera’s card saw him replaced. Neither of the two are likely to be first choice on the right side of the back four should Jose Bosingwa regain full fitness and the form he enjoyed before his lengthy time out of the side due to injury and a series of complications, with Ivanovich arguably offering better cover to Alex in the center of defence. Ferreira’s value has often been seen most in European games, where his understanding of the continental game adds an extra dimension. Without Bosingwa Chelsea still look weak on the right when compared to the channel driven by Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda, both of whom gave the Wigan defence serious problems.

The Wigan wall was less generous than WBA had been the previous week, when it opened nicely to let a Drogba free kick through, and his attempt on 69 minutes failed to penetrate. Ivorian team-mate Saloman Kalou was substituted for Malouda, who looked as if he may have taken a knock, and was soon on the score sheet with another goal from a silky counter attack. Lampard intercepted on the halfway line and found Drogba with an intelligent and finely judged pass, and although Drogba could have taken the shot himself he unselfishly laid on an easy finish for Kalou, whose post goal ‘shoe-shine’ routine appeared to cause a little embarrassment. And perhaps that little cameo perfectly sums up the new Drogba. No more of the petulance and ego that used to be so much a part of his mercurial game under Mourinho; Didier has matured into the consummate team player and senior professional, looking happier, and more fluid in his movement than at any time during the last couple of seasons.

The return of Michael Essien to the team after his own long battle with injury has been a revelation, heralded as being equal to a new signing – and rightly so. His strength and drive create constant problems for opposition midfielders, inject pace and energy in attack, and power in defence. What has changed under Ancelotti is his partnership with John Obi Mikel. Previous managers have tended to play Mikel in a very tight and restrictive role, so much so that when Ancelotti went on record back in 2009 with the prediction that he would become a valuable playmaker it was greeted with mild derision in some quarters. Playing the two in this fluid partnership allows both to show a wider range and scope to their game, and with Europe in mind the obvious benefit of their acting in a dual holding role should allow Chelsea to lock the midfield down when needed.

Benayoun replaced Essien on 78 minutes, and Wigan soon brought two of their own substitutes on, partly in an attempt to shoe up their flagging energy levels, and partly to replace Figuroa, who was stretchered off following a collision with his goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Wigan Boyce and McCarthy were unable to shore up the home side’s flagging concentration, and Drogba again supplied a perfectly flighted cross, this time from the left of the 18 yard box, for Kalou to nod in his second of the game, and goal number 5 for the rampant Blues. And it could very easily have been 6, when Kalou just failed to pull the ball back for Lampard, at the end of one of his trademark runs into the box from halfway, to fire home. But the last goal came just two minutes later when Benayoun rolled the ball home for his first goal in a Chelsea shirt from a Ferreira pull back after a sprint down the right. You sense that it’s going to take a lot of doing before Yossi replaces Joe Cole in supporter’s affections, but this is certainly a better way to go about it than red cards and missed penalties.

So ended a veritable master class in taking your chances when they come; 10 attempts on target, for a shot to goal conversion rate of 60%. For many, Chelsea have simply taken up where they left off last season and, certainly in goal scoring, that’s true – but unlike the past, when large numbers of opportunities were sometimes missed on the way to impressive score lines, this display suggests that more clinical finishing has been added to an already potent mix.

Jose Mourinho may inhabit a special place in the hearts of Chelsea fans, but you always felt that his own ego always took precedence. With games like these Carlo Ancelotti is laying the foundations of a dynasty full of character and creating a shrine to Joga Bonito in the Fulham Road.

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About herdworks
Chelsea fan, Writer, Smallholder, Horse Breeder.

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