Club Focus – Chelsea – Perfect Blues overwhelm Hammers, next stop Slovakia

Chelsea kept up their winning start to the season with a 3-1 victory over London rivals West Ham United at Upton Park, remaining top of the table after four games. Michael Essien’s headed double and Salomon Kalou’s fortunate deflection gave the champions all three points on Saturday that ensured the Blues’ faultless start to the season continued. Not many expected Avram Grant’s West Ham to hold up a Chelsea attack that had rattled 14 goals in their opening three matches, and it took the league leaders just over 90 seconds to hit the net and silence the home crowd, as Essien rose to head in Didier Drogba’s corner. The lead was doubled after 18 minutes as Kalou benefited from some poor Hammers defending to unwittingly add to Chelsea’s advantage. Fresh from World Cup humiliation in South Africa and the target of Chelsea fans’ mocking chants, Rob Green endured another moment to forget as he failed to hold Drogba’s long-range free-kick, palming the striker’s effort back into play when he ought to have held on. Matthew Upson, who himself returned from the World Cup after a poor performance, then sent his clearance straight at the retreating Kalou, who knew little about it as the ball clipped his heels and looped into the West Ham net.

2-0 up and untroubled, Chelsea cruised through the rest of the match without exerting maximum effort ahead of the opening match of their Champions League campaign on Wednesday, away to Slovakian champions MSK Zilina. Essien added a second headed goal in the final five minutes, converting Paulo Ferreira’s cross to score only his second double for the Blues, the first coming in the 4-0 win over Wolves last season. The only blot was conceding their first League goal of the season as former player Scott Parker produced a rare moment of quality for the hosts, lobbing over Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal after the Czech keeper punched a corner to him on the edge of the box.

Despite conceding, Cech was full of praise for his backline that conceded their first League goal since April in the closing stages of their weekend win. Parker’s coolly lobbed volley ended a run of seven consecutive clean sheets and the Blues stopper voiced his approval of the champions’ impressive start. “Football is all about scoring goals so when someone is scoring a lot of goals it is always talked about ahead of the defence,” the Czech international said. “We have been defending well and scoring goals. I hope we keep going like this because in the big games sometimes you need just one goal if you defend well.”

The Premier League champions head to Slovakia for their first Champions League match of this season’s competition on Wednesday evening as they renew their pursuit of European glory. Carlo Ancelotti will have captain John Terry available despite a rib injury that saw him substituted in the closing minutes of the West Ham game, but Frank Lampard misses out on the trip, given extra recovery time from the hernia operation that saw him miss the clash with his former club on Saturday. Ashley Cole has been rested while Drogba is suspended following his dismissal in the Blues’ last-16 defeat to eventual winners Inter Milan last season.

Zilina reached the group stage of the Champions League for the first time this season after facing three knockout qualifying rounds. Goalkeeper Cech also spoke of the Blues’ trip to the Slovakian champions and assured that the Premier League winners would not be underestimating their less esteemed opponents in order to avoid a shock. “Zilina had to go through qualification and the fact they have made it into the group stages shows their quality,” said Cech. “Underestimating any team in the Champions League can only damage you.” Chelsea have been surprised in recent seasons by supposed lesser opponents in the Champions League, held to a stalemate away in Romania against little known CFR Cluj under Luiz Felipe Scolari’s guidance in 2008. Last season, they were held to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge by Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus in the final group stage game when progression to the knockout stage had been confirmed.

Cech continued to say that as often in matches against champions of smaller European countries, the trip away would bring a potential banana skin against a fanatical home support: “Matches against Zilina will certainly have a special atmosphere,” he said. “But at the moment I am most satisfied with our winning streak and with the fact we have been doing well as a team.”

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