Club Focus – Chelsea – Ancelotti magic continues

Chelsea remains the only team to maintain its 100% Premier League record after Manchester City conceded late on in an entertaining derby. The Blues stepped up the pace against Spurs, who to their credit produced worrying attacks of their own. Chelsea started strongly and it was not until the half-hour mark when Ashley Cole broke the deadlock. This writer had pre-match concerns of Cole’s impact in this game, believing the threat of Aaron Lennon would prevent the left-back from his usual attacking tendencies. However, Lennon’s game saw long spells of inactivity, allowing the roles held by the wing-backs in the formation to function accordingly.

The threats Jermain Defoe and Lennon have presented to teams so far this campaign were non-existent at the Bridge and it seems Carlo Ancelotti showed his awareness of their form by ordering his defence and defensive shield to close them down quickly. Harry Redknapp claimed his side would be inferior in a physical battle and deemed their best chance of success would come through attacking football. However, Harry’s decision to play Lennon in a more central role with Keane behind Defoe created a flat formation, eradicating wide outlets. Had the small England winger hugged the touchline and attacked the right or left-hand side with more belief and desire Cole may well have opted out of delving forward as often as he did on Sunday.

Michael Ballack tucked the second away after good work from the front three of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard. The latter’s position and role in the team has been questioned on a number of occasions to date this season, deeming his performances as largely ineffective in comparison to previous campaigns. Chelsea’s long-serving midfielder has found the net just once from open play in the opening games – a feature atypical of his game. Critics and pundits have claimed the midfielder should lie deeper in midfield allowing greater influence and the opportunity to attack the box during the crucial moments. However, Ancelotti has no reason to base the team around one player as he did at Milan with Kaka, and the big Italian has found a formation that brings the best out of the team rather than any individual. Who has reason to criticise that after consecutive wins and a 100% record for the rest of the league to contend with?

It was the in-form Ivorian, Drogba, who sealed the tie, bringing the ball down intricately before battling his way past Vedran Corluka and then profiting from a fortunate ricochet to slot home from close range. The former Chelsea favourite, Carlo Cudicini, had a decent game, although he found himself on the end of a 3-0 defeat to Spurs’ London rivals.

Two clear-cut penalties could have shaped the game on Sunday, begging the question once again for FIFA to decide on extra penalty area officials. The penalty decision officials have already been implemented in the Europa League pending a decision to progress to a Champions League level should they prove their worth. During a recent Masters Football tie a penalty was not awarded for handball, however the referee chose to view touchline footage before reconsidering his decision and signalling for the penalty spot. The debate for these two issues is ongoing, however the fact of the matter is penalties will no longer be decided solely by the referee – or so it may seem.

On Sunday the referee would have welcomed a helping hand, as Robbie Keane was clearly clipped by Ricardo Carvalho in a one-on-one situation. Having already passed the Portuguese centre-back, Keane tumbled to the ground and turned to face the referee – his appeal was in vain. Had the decision fallen in the favour of the North Londoners, Keane would have been presented the opportunity to draw the game level at 1-1. Chelsea had the next claim after Benoit Assou-Ekotto turned the ball over the crossbar and away from danger with an arm, Lampard appealed strongly although again to no avail.

Chelsea face QPR in mid-week which could see starts for Fabio Borini who replaced Anelka up front, and a likely appearance for injury-ridden midfielder Joe Cole. Chelsea should come out on top in this Carling Cup fixture whether they opt for a weakened side or not. Players such as Drogba and Lampard have featured in most of Chelsea’s games this season and it will be important they gain a mid-week rest to remain in full fitness for Chelsea’s approaching ties.

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