Well, so much for Chelsea buckling under the pressure Manchester United created with their 3-1 victory of surging Tottenham yesterday
The Blues are made up of wily veterans, so Sir Alex Ferguson’s futile attempts at mind games unsurprisingly fell on deaf ears around Cobham, but even the most die-hard Chelsea fan couldn’t have foreseen such an emphatic reply coming.
It must be said that a team that has secured their top-flight status and find themselves well out of contention for a European place must dig deep for any motivation at season’s end. After all, what exactly were Stoke City playing for aside from pride? But any cynical naysayers that will proclaim Stoke ‘rolled over’ for Chelsea would be a bit naive. The credit for today’s 7-0 demolition rests solely with the masterclass produced by the hungry Londoners.
Carlo Ancelotti came out blazing with an all-out attacking setup featuring four recognized forwards in Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Solomon Kalou and Florent Malouda. While Malouda was employed in more of a midfield role, the Italian manager’s intent was clear: we are going to strangle the Stoke defense to death from the word go. And boy how the Londoners did.
Stoke could rarely got a hold of the ball, and Chelsea’s staggering dominance in possession enabled the aforementioned quartet roam around the pitch freely, never being constricted to a particular area to operate in. Indeed, at times the unabashed movement from Chelsea’s forwards was mesmerizing, reminiscent of Dutch total football where anyone and everyone could find themselves anywhere in the attacking third (but of course the back-line and holding midfielder Michael Ballack kept the spine of the team in order to thwart counter-attacks and maintain shape).
Solomon Kalou certainly made the most of getting the nod over Joe Cole. The speedy Ivorian has always been a Chelsea favorite for his industry and heart, but the end product has often gone lacking. Such criticisms could be put to bed for one afternoon today. Kalou, along with his international teammate Drogba, literally popped up everywhere on the pitch: out wide, edge of the box, at the byline, dropping deep to get possession, and switching flanks with ease. It was a man-of-the-match performance of the highest order, and not only because he netted a hat-trick.
The unrestrained movement of Chelsea’s “front four” left Stoke defenders gasping for both air and clues all afternoon. For all the kudos and praise lavished upon Arsenal and their brand of football, Chelsea still do not get the credit they deserve for the style of play employed under Ancelotti. When they are on their game, Chelsea’s fantastic movement in the final third is unparalleled in England. Yet there is still a firm directness in their play, something other teams often lack.
Indeed, the Blues’ amazing 93-goal haul this campaign is testament to their claim as England’s best team this season. It would be hard to argue against them after such a performance today.
Scoring seven goals in a match in today’s game is an amazing feat, one any team would be proud of if they were to achieve as much. But for Chelsea to have done this for the third time this season is simply remarkable. Manchester United have certainly been a great team this year, but they have been proven to be too reliant on Wayne Rooney over the course of the year. It would be hard to argue against Chelsea being labeled the best all-around team this season, they deservedly sit atop the table with two matches remain.
When Drogba has been out, Chelsea have won. They rode John Terry’s dip in form and survived to keep on fighting. Today’s makeshift back four shows how defensive injuries have decimated Ancelotti’s options, yet they defend alike lions from front to back and make life difficult for every opponent. When Essien went down, they kept on winning.
But beyond overcoming all the injuries (and critics will point to Abramovich’s deep pockets to minimize such a feat), it has been Chelsea’s attacking flair and the way they can suffocate the opposition that separates them from the rest. They have a 33-goal striker (Drogba), a 25-goal midfielder (Lampard), tremendous wingers (Cole, Kalou, Malouda), and a defense that, while not as resolute and stingy as versions past, still can weather any storm and come out top. In all areas of the pitch, Chelsea have in my opinion consistently been the best side this term. Full credit to Manchester United, who have rode just as many injuries and have in their ranks arguably the world’s best striker. But position by position, Chelsea have been more consistent (and did the double against United as well).
Yet one slip-up at Anfield next Sunday could see Man United retain the title. However, on the evidence of today, Chelsea seem unlikely to let this one slip away. With so much riding on today’s match, they could have been reserved and restrained, cagey and cautious. But emblematic of their coach, they came out and whipped Stoke to send a message to Old Trafford. They are hungry for this title to return to west London. They are not only going to fight tooth and nail to get it, but, in the process, they are going to show the world where England’s best football is being played, and that is at Stamford Bridge.
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