x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chelsea push right buttons

The champions' prolificacy in front of goal is usually associated more with PlayStation than Premier League, says Rob Shepherd.

Didier Drogba, left, and Nicolas Anelka are widely acknowledged as two of the best finishers in the Premier League.
Didier Drogba, left, and Nicolas Anelka are widely acknowledged as two of the best finishers in the Premier League.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, is far too shrewd to get carried away by his team's seismic start to the season. After their opening day 6-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea repeated the scoreline against Wigan Athletic on Saturday. Their sensational start has sent shockwaves around the Premier League.

In the wake of a poor pre-season Ancelotti suggested it might take his team some time to get into their stride, especially after a lethargic display in their 3-1 Community Shield defeat by Manchester United three weeks ago. If this is a slow start what on earth will Chelsea be like when they really get into their stride? On the face of it, that is a frightening question even for their closest rivals United, Arsenal, and perhaps Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur to contemplate.

Given that Chelsea's next three Premier League games are at home to Stoke City, away to West Ham United then home again to Blackpool, they could well have opened up a significant points gap at the top of the table. And pushing their goal difference to 20-plus after just five games is not beyond the realms of possibility. Yet anyone who thinks Chelsea can walk away with the title on the basis of this awesome opening gambit, which could well continue over the next three weeks, is deluded. The astute Ancelotti is not one to be blinded by a goal rush that continues from the end of last season when Chelsea scored 18 goals in their last four games to tie up the title and take their season's tally to 103 goals.

As he reflected in the wake of whipping Wigan, Ancelloti was quite plain in assessment: "It is difficult to analyse at the moment because this is not real football it is PlayStation football." Quite. Yes, Chelsea are hitting all the right buttons. Despite players of the quality of Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco moving on, a Chelsea squad that won the domestic league and cup double last season looks, if anything, stronger despite the lack of high-profile big-money activity during the transfer window.

The recruitment of Yossi Benayoun and Ramires will give them new dimensions in the midfield to support Frank Lampard. The most significant " addition" though is the return of Michael Essien who was out for so long with injury last season. With Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou playing wide Chelsea have goals all around the pitch, yet in Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka they have two of the country's best strikers.

But Ancelotti is acutely aware there will come a time when it will not all work like a computer game. A telling assessment of Chelsea credentials will arrive at the end of September when they travel to Manchester City on September 25 and then the following week when Arsenal go to Stamford Bridge. In both games one burning questionwill be posed: is their defence strong enough to last the distance? There is a feeling Chelsea could be susceptible through the middle given that John Terry looks to be creaking a bit and that Ricardo Carvalho has been off loaded to Real Madrid.

And although Petr Cech looked to have regained his form last season there remains a lack of top class cover for the Chelsea keeper. All will surely be revealed in December when Chelsea play a sequence of games against Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal. A major factor in Chelsea's favour is the experience of this team. Despite their adrenalin fuelled start Drogba insisted the players would not be getting carried away.

"We have known each other for such a long time, so we know what we have to do," Drogba said. "We are going to have some difficult times, but we want them to come as late as possible." sports@thenational.ae