x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Carlo Ancelotti's magnificent seven

Frank Lampard put his name in the history books for Chelsea as he scored four times in a 7-1 drubbing of Aston Villa to re-ignite his team's title challenge.

Frank Lampard slides in at the back post to convert a cross from Florent Malouda and score the first of his four goals.
Frank Lampard slides in at the back post to convert a cross from Florent Malouda and score the first of his four goals.

LONDON // Frank Lampard put his name in the history books for Chelsea as he scored four times in a 7-1 drubbing of Aston Villa to re-ignite his team's title challenge. Only a week ago Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, was said to be under serious pressure after Manchester United and Arsenal had wiped out his team's early-season lead in the Premier League. But the Stamford Bridge crowd roared "Carlo, Carlo" as Lampard led a remarkable performance against a Villa side who until now were challenging to finish in the top four - on a day when Arsenal were held to a draw by Birmingham.

Lampard's goals, two from the penalty spot, took his tally to 151 during nine years at Chelsea, leaving him third on the club's all-time list ahead of legends such as Peter Osgood and Roy Bentley. And it also took him to 21 for the current campaign. "What a performance. He was terrific," said Ray Wilkins, Chelsea's assistant manager, after watching his team complete a crushing victory with Florent Malouda (2) and Salomon Kalou also scoring.

"When you consistently score goals as he does and play to the level he does then you have to say he is world-class. He's invaluable to us." Lampard was not the only hero on the pitch, however, because Frenchman Malouda was also hugely influential. The winger scored twice for the second match in a row, having also been on target in a 5-0 victory over Portsmouth in midweek, and has now hit the net 13 times this season, leading many critics to name him as Chelsea's most improved player.

Chelsea, who left top scorer Did-ier Drogba on the bench to reco-ver from a knee injury, went ahead after only 15 minutes when Malouda's driven cross found Lampard sliding in at the far post. Villa equalised 15 minutes later when Ashley Young's terrific cross-field pass found John Carew completely unmarked to side-foot home at the far post, a defensive error that was forgotten in the second half as Chelsea took complete control.

They went ahead just before half-time when Zhirkov won a penalty, racing on to a Malouda flick before falling dramatically under a challenge from James Collins. The ever-reliable Lampard made no mistake from the spot, just as he did when Zhirkov went down again in the second half, this time flattened by Richard Dunne. By that time Chelsea, revelling in Ancelotti's new 4-3-3 formation with creative hub Deco at the helm, were already 3-1 ahead thanks to a wonderful finish from Malouda following a 57th-minute Zhirkov cross and they never looked back as Villa collapsed.

Malouda also made it 5-1, this time curling home a right-foot shot, before Kalou, on as a subsitute made it six and Lampard drilled home in injury time. "We were well beaten by a good side and at 3-1 we capitulated. It was a tough lesson to take," said Villa's manager Martin O'Neill. "It was as devastating a lesson as I've experienced in the game. "People talk about us finishing fourth but on that performance we wouldn't finish 44th."

Chelsea have no such problems. Not only has this result revitalised their title challenge and improved their goal difference, it has also seen confidence surge at Stamford Bridge, just as they prepare to travel to Old Trafford for a potential title decider next weekend. "I'm not sure what sort of message it sends out but we're deligh-ted with the way things are going," added Wilkins. "We're playing some very good football and the work ethic is terrific. We have a group of winners here and we want to win."

sports@thenational.ae