By Mark Fishburn, EPL Talk correspondent
Didier Drogba scored a goal of Peter Osgood quality today at Stamford Bridge today. Also, he won almost every ball against the defenders, playing at his most skillful and determined best. By the end of the game he was exhorting to the crowd to make more noise and was substituted by Mourinho in the 94th minute so the crowd could show their appreciation.
The game started with almost 100% of the possession in the first 15 minutes, but none of it to any effect or creativity. When they did finally get the ball, Liverpool had their sharpest period of the game. Ashley Cole who had a poor first half was nowhere to be seen when Kuyt received the ball on the edge of the area and smacked the angled shot against the bar over a beaten Cech. Worse was to follow for Cole playing next to John Terry and leaving acres of space for Pennant.
For the next 25 minutes neither team created a clear cut chance with Ballack noticeable for ponderous play and being caught in possession. Sheva must have given Tiger Woods a ticket but that’s about all he did, looking off the pace in stark contrast to Drogba.
Chelsea looked all at sea with Lampard and Ballack invisible and Essien not quite as sharp as previously. Cole is notably absent on the left until he made two poor crosses in rapid succession. Makelele has not started a single attack in this game.
Liverpool’s poor form continues though with Alonso a shadow of last year and Gerrard fleetingly in the game playing unusually on the left midfield. Bellamy looks threatening but Kuyt disappoints. Neither Liverpool wide men take advantage of possession and Chelsea can only muster a poor free kick by Lampard who continues his form with more poor passes.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Lampard loops a ball from the right to Drogba with his back to the Goal. He traps, turns and volleys round Carragher and a lead footed Reina into the net. Brilliant. It’s the kind of goal that makes you come back and makes your forget the previous stumbling 42 minutes. As the half ends Sissoko is lucky to stay on the pitch after two fouls, Gerrard roasts Boularouz and Ballack continues his miserable performance.
Chelsea start the second half brightly until Ballack inexplicably lets his foot stamp down on Sissoko in retaliation for another reckless tackle from the Liverpool player. Referee Riley has little choice but to send Ballack for a 3 game vacation, but ironically it could help Mourinho get back to a more fluent midfield over the next few games.
With Gerrard and co. getting more possession the chances start to come for Liverpool but they don’t convert. Gerrard finding himself unmarked 11 yards out but with too much time, only finds Petr Cech’s left knee. Cole continues to give acres of space to Pennant but with no-one to tackle Pennant doesn’t get the ball to the byline and crosses poorly.
Chelsea meanwhile bring on Robben who immediately show that he has lost none of his pace nor ability to go to ground to create fouls. Sheva goes off avoiding eye contact with Tiger. Drogba is untiring in his challenges for the ball showing great skill.
As often happens Chelsea play more fluently with 10 men and Cole finally gets down the left but spoilt by a poor cross. If Bridge had been on the bench, Cole would be gone. Paulo Ferreira replaces Boularouz and looks surprisingly sharp. Meanwhile Kuyt blasts over the bar. Crouch comes on and joins Gerrard in the dog house by heading straight at Cech from 10 yards. Drogba’s adrenaline keeps going right to the end winning the ball and frustrating Liverpool.
At the end of a fast pace game Chelsea will blank out a dour first half with the satisfaction of gutsing out a win with ten men and knowing that they will have better shape for three games. Both john Terry and Carvahlo had good games. It seems more difficult to figure out why Liverpool are not clicking but last year’s Gerrard/Alonso engine is not working with the introduction of Sissoko. More work needed.
Chelsea Player Ratings
Cech 7 two reaction saves
Boularouz 6 overcommitted under pressure
Carvalho 7 caught out once but played well
Terry 8 commanding game in defense
Cole 4 had a wretched game
Essien 7 mistimed several passes but played with commitment
Makelele 6 not the usual Makalele
Ballack 3 a disappointing game anyway but inexcusably lost his head
Lampard 6 one weak shot one excellent pass
Sheva 5 the crowd have started groaning each time he loses the ball
Drogba 9 a brilliant all round contribution even without the great goal
Subs Ferreira and Robben played well.