x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Drogba to the double for Chelsea

Chelsea's off-field behaviour has brought a reprimand on the orders of Roman Abramovich. On the pitch, it is harder to fault their conduct.

Didier Drogba pokes home Chelsea's opener.
Didier Drogba pokes home Chelsea's opener.

WOLVERHAMPTON // Chelsea's off-field behaviour has brought a reprimand on the orders of Roman Abramovich. On the pitch, it is harder to fault their conduct. With a quiet assurance and an unhurried demeanour, Carlo Ancelotti's team moved four points clear at the top of the Premier League. Manchester United's defeat at Everton created the opportunity; Chelsea, with the ruthlessness of potential champions, accepted it.

They were functional rather than fantastic but victory came in familiar fashion. Didier Drogba's penchant for controversy means he is rarely overshadowed but, while the Chelsea top scorer had been upstaged in unwanted fashion by John Terry and Ashley Cole of late, he restored his name to the headlines. His 24th and 25th goals of the season were decisive, just as the Ivorian is invariably incisive.

Goalscorer and goalkeeper were united in their excellence. The difference between a committed Wolves side and a point may have been Drogba, but it could have been Petr Cech. Two second-half saves were world class. "He did a fantastic save when we were 1-0 up," said Ancelotti. "He also did a fantastic assist for Didier for the second goal. Wolverhampton played very well. We didn't play so well but we had a good spirit and we deserved to win. Our position in the table is better, but nothing is decided."

There was an encouraging display from Yuri Zhirkov, who has rarely resembled Russia's dynamic wing-back of Euro 2008 during his time at Stamford Bridge, the crucial contributions came in either penalty area. An inauspicious opening contained little activity in either. Yet the ability to go from undistinguished to exceptional can be a mark of fine teams and Chelsea's opener was a goal of pure class, the sort that top-quality players make look simple, where opponents are outmanoeuvred and out-thought with ease.

Zhirkov collected the ball near the left touchline, played a one-two with Ballack and advanced into the penalty area. Then he slid a pass along the edge of the six-yard box for Drogba to touch in at the far post. The ability to conjure a goal out of adversity is another indication of a successful side. Chelsea did just that to seal victory. It was football at its most direct and most effective. Cech's punt forward was met by Drogba, who displayed the strength and speed to evade Christophe Berra, sprint around Marcus Hahnemann and place the ball in the empty net. "Their first goal had a lot of quality about it but the second is just dire," lamented Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager. "We had the game by the scruff of the neck, Cech had just made two really good saves and it was a really bad, bad piece of defending."

But if the goalscorer is accustomed to such finishes, it was a rarity for the creator. Nevertheless, it was an illustration of a renaissance from Cech. His fallibility against set-pieces was highlighted earlier in the season. In open play, however, he remains a fine shot-stopper as he demonstrated twice in the minutes before Drogba's second. The first stop came when Matt Jarvis picked out Adlene Guedioura with a deep cross and the recent recruit struck his volley beautifully. Cech produced an excellent parry. A still better one followed. When John Terry miskicked, Foley reacted quicker than Paulo Ferreira.

His fierce shot drew a superb stop from Cech. While the rebound fell to Guedioura, his effort was tame and Terry had recovered in time to clear off the line. "I was really annoyed afterwards," added McCarthy. "I'm annoyed we've lost against champions elect." While his anger remains, Chelsea go from Molineux to Milan from McCarthy to Jose Mourinho. sports@thenational.ae