Chelsea players departing for the international break will leave the club top of the Premier League table after a 100 percent start to the season continued with Saturday’s 2-0 win over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge.
Going into the weekend Chelsea led the way as the only side yet to drop points after 6-0 victories over West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic and maintained their advantage as goals from Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba’s penalty saw off Tony Pulis’ men. After Frank Lampard saw his weak spot-kick saved by Thomas Sorensen with nine minutes played, Chelsea threatened a number of times before Malouda fired the Blues ahead with his third goal of the season, blasting first-time past Sorensen after John Terry’s pinpoint through ball. Despite not hitting the heights of their opening victories Carlo Ancelotti’s side were dominant throughout and Ashley Cole nearly added a sensational second as his volley beat Sorensen only to be denied by the crossbar. After a scare as Glenn Whelan went closer than anyone this season to breaching Chelsea’s defence when his 30-yard drive thundered off the crossbar, Drogba wrapped up victory from the spot after Nicolas Anelka was felled by Sorensen having beaten the Danish goalkeeper to the Ivorian’s ball over the top.
Some key players from the Blues will not be joining their respective nations due to injury and withdrawal. Drogba is not included for Ivory Coast against Rwanda in their opening 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifier as new coach Francois Zahoui decided not to call the striker up for his first competitive match in charge of the Elephants. Salomon Kalou, however, will be part of the squad for the match in Abidjan. Michael Essien will be given time by Ghana to continue his recovery from the knee injury that ruled him out of the end of last season and the Black Stars’ journey to the quarter-finals of this summer’s World Cup. He was not recalled for his country’s match in Swaziland. Fellow midfielder John Obi Mikel should face Madagascar for Nigeria, having himself failed to recover from injury for the World Cup.
Malouda has hit four goals in three Chelsea games this season and should take part for Laurent Blanc in France’s 2012 European Championships qualifiers with Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina but he will not be joined by Anelka, who starts an 18-match ban enforced by the French Football Federation (FFF) after the nation’s dismal performance at the World Cup. Anelka was one of the key figures in the unceremonious split between former Head Coach Raymond Domenech and his players at this summer’s tournament. As a consequence of his conduct, the forward has been excluded from consideration for the national side in the aftermath of the fiasco that has tainted French football over recent weeks and it would appear unless the ban is uplifted that the 31-year-old’s international career is over.
Cole will hope to take his impressive early season form onto the field for England in an attempt to silence some of the derision aimed his way in the wake of Fabio Capello’s sides’ poor display in South Africa. He will not be joined by his regular Three Lions colleagues as Terry struggled with a hamstring injury in training last week and limped off the pitch at the end of the Stoke match. He later ruled himself out of England’s plans for their qualifying games with Bulgaria at Wembley this Friday and next Tuesday’s trip to Switzerland. Lampard also misses out as he faces two weeks on the sidelines to recover from a hernia operation scheduled to take place this week. First team regulars who will likely join up with their national sides include Serbia’s Branislav Ivanovic, Russia’s Yuri Zhirkov, Portugal’s Paulo Ferreira and new signing Israeli Yossi Benayoun.
Chelsea will hope to have Terry and Lampard available again after the international break and that no new injuries arise ahead of a busy period with Premier League matches at West Ham, home to Blackpool and a trip to Manchester City. The Blues’ Champions League campaign kicks off in Slovakia against MSK Zilina before Olympique Marseille travel to London, while Newcastle United are Chelsea’s Carling Cup third round opponents as Ancelotti’s men face six matches in 17 days before the end of September.