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8.21.2006

Chelsea crushed Manchester City without Ballack

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Michael Ballack was present at the stadium but he couldn't take part of Chelsea's win over a weak Manchester City by 3-0. An injury left the German captain out of the match.

However, it's good to say that the game was really good for the blues. Indeed, Drogba and Lampard were appreciably improved, but plaudits went to Wayne Bridge who was absolutely excellent. He has a cult status amongst many fans, and this first encounter of the season saw the former Southampton man play like his place depended on it. His performance could scarcely have been bettered by left back Ashley Cole in his prime for Arsenal or England, with neat touches, composure on the ball, intelligent positioning, and some marauding, but nonetheless well-timed runs down the left. His assist for Drogba's dramatic diving header to put Mourinho's side out of sight at 3-0 was particularly telling. Granted, this season Bridge will face far more potent threats than the paucity of offerings that Manchester City cobbled together yesterday, but defensively he coped well. It would not be churlish to suggest that he seems to have taken a long look at Paulo Ferreira's quiet, efficient, effective mastery of his full-back berthing, and there does seem to be a new composure and assuredness to Bridge's calmness and awareness. Anbody who suggests that a certain Arsenal and England full-back will be a guaranteed starter either at Stamford Bridge, as he is surely destined for, or for his country, may, on this display at least, be in for a surprise.

We can say that Chelsea's first goal, like Bridge's performance, had England stamped all over it, as the similarities with England's first goal against Greece national team were not lost on the Stamford Bridge faithful. As with midweek, a peach of a cross, and John Terry rose imperiously to crash the header past a stranded Nicky Weaver in the City goal. Taking advantage of a small but crucial deflection wrongfooting Weaver once more, the smart Lampard carried on the England theme with a twenty yard drive that nestled in the corner and gave Chelsea an unassailable lead.

If Chelsea's initial brace was England class, their third had more of a Brazilian flavour, with a sumptuous cross from Wayne Bridge for Drogba, who had worked hard for little reward up to that point, to place a thunderbolt diving header for 3-0. Such Shevchenko-esque devastating finishing and honest endeavour from Drogba has not always been obvious in the past, but as with dutch striker Arjen Robben, there appears to have been a metaphorical pulling up of one's socks. Robben was also much-improved, with a workrate to game his obvious talents going forward that must have raised a few eyebrows. How Mourinho and the rest of Chelsea faithful must wish for a similar uplift for Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was decent enough yesterday, did not make any mistakes, and looked more like the threat of a threat. His time will come soon enough.

In the past, a great many column inches have ruminated on 'Chelsea, spurred on from the midfield with another dynamic display of midfield mastery of...' and the contribution of Frank Lampard, but yesterday saw a slightly altered piece of prose. After what can only be described as a colossal World Cup, Michael Essien has returned from Germany with fire in his belly, and his equally colossal midfield performance eclipsed even the amazing Frank Lampard who was by no means pedestrian. Tireless running, power, and raw aggression box to box were the watchwords, and Essien can consider himself unlucky not to have scored for Chelsea with a swerving 25 yard volley flew tantalisingly wide. Indeed, such was the angry industry of the Ghanaian, that were it not for a bizarre booking for pulling the petulant Bernardo Corradi's hair in an ugly exchange that saw the Italian dismissed on a nightmare debut for a second yellow card, that he would surely have got man-of-the-match. Jose Mourinho was distinctly unamused by the 'stupidity' of Essien's moment of madness in the middle, and all deserved plaudits aside, Essien must consider himself lucky not to have been sent off. His youthful exuberance will serve as an excuse only so far, and he will surely have to stamp out the daft bookings if he is to maintain his youthful progress at Stamford Bridge.

Manchester City clearly came to Stamford Bridge with a plan to restrict Chelsea. Despite those efforts, Terry's early goal opened the game up, and in truth Stuart Pearce's side never looked like getting back into it, with some inventive play from Trevor Sinclair coming to precious little, and Corradi's sending-off completely snuffing out any hope of an unlikely point. Better teams than Pearce's side will come to Stamford Bridge and get more than a three goal hiding if Chelsea keep on improving, and it is unlikely that Pearce will be worrying too much about this game and on workrate alone it is likely that Pearce will not have to worry too much about a relegation battle come May next year.

In the end we can say that it was another brutally-efficient Chelsea performance, evocative of their Title-winning tilts of seasons past. Same Chelsea, same efficiency, same emphatic three points, but some different faces and some new stars in the squad.