Chelsea completed their second seven goal mauling of Premier League opposition of the season this weekend and again the feat was achieved without the talismanic Didier Drogba.
Carlo Ancelotti’s bold move to leave Drogba on the bench did pay dividends, however questions were asked of the Italian’s selection policy. If Drogba was fit enough to be on the bench, the Ivorian was surely fit enough to start. Leaving the Blues’ top scorer out was risky especially considering the magnitude of the game – a sour result here would have almost certified United as title winners. Regardless of this controversial decision, the Italian tactician was essentially spot on, as he opted for two playmakers to cause Villa problems through the middle.
As stated in a previous focus, Villa’s contradictory style often favours the Blues. Martin O’Neill’s footballing philosophy usually concentrates its attention on involving the wide men – Chelsea on the contrary base a large proportion of their attacks through the heart of their opposition. Deco and Joe Cole occupied the roles at the summit of the core, just behind Nicolas Anelka. The duo of Deco and Cole were a thorn in the Villa side all day, with their positional freedom creating difficulties for the Villains’ contingency to pick them up. Deco in particular was given time to play – to devastating effect. The Portuguese magician has struggled with the velocity and physicality of the English game since his arrival but Ancelotti’s homework was evident. Well aware that Villa’s minute squad are beginning to suffer from fatigue, their closing down began to fade in correlation with Deco’s involvement. The playmaker was not pressured and therefore had the time to showcase his talents, picking the right ball and slicing open a tiring Villa backline.
Florent Malouda was also a key performer – his new direct style saw Habib Beye and Luke Young both unable to deal with his threat. Malouda’s game has improved immensely as his relationship with Yury Zhirkov begins to flourish in the same vein. Malouda and Ashley Cole had developed an unbreakable understanding on the left wing, however since the left-back’s injury he has been replaced by a variety of options available to Chelsea. Ancelotti has now deemed Zhirkov the man best suited to cover for Cole and this move is beginning to reap rewards as the left-side created five of Chelsea’s seven goals. John Obi Mikel provided stability in an attack-minded midfield which saw on-runners Frank Lampard, Malouda, Cole, Deco, Anelka and Zhirkov overrun a drained O’Neill side.
Nevertheless, Chelsea’s 7-1 victory was tainted as Manchester United replied to great aplomb with a 4-0 win of their own. Chelsea’s lead at the top was short-lived and now a point behind the Champions, the Blues face their bitter rivals in what is being touted as the title decider. That may possibly be premature but there is no doubt a United win would leave the Blues a mountain to climb. Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba played no part in this weekend’s outings and although United face Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, both parties will be expected to field their top assets. The form of Rooney, Nani and Dimitar Berbatov seems to be reaching its peak as does that of Lampard, Drogba and Malouda, promising a feisty affair of world class talent.
A defeat at United would diminish all efforts in Saturday’s emphatic win, but if Chelsea can follow this victory up and overturn United at Old Trafford they may take the added momentum necessary to win the League this season. Chelsea’s other focus remains on the FA Cup where they face the side still recovering from the 7-1 defeat. No doubt complacency could be a factor, as Chelsea’s will be punished if they believe the cup game will be a continuation of the recent league result. An important week for Chelsea awaits yet again as every game becomes crucial in deciding who will cross the finish line first. Despite Arsenal’s draw this weekend any points dropped by the top two will be preyed upon by the Gunners and it will take a brave man to write any of the top three off until the final day in what is turning out to be a thrilling Premier League season.