x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Economic Chelsea back in the swing

The Premier League champions start their title defence in style, sinking newly promoted West Bromwich Albion 6-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Florent Malouda scores Chelsea's sixth goal past West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Scott Carson at Stamford Bridge yesterday.
Florent Malouda scores Chelsea's sixth goal past West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Scott Carson at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

LONDON // Roman Abramovich's response to winning a double? Do it again, but cheaper. The world often appears to weigh heavy on Carlo Ancelotti's hangdog shoulders. Just his luck to end up working for a cost-cutting billionaire. Like last year, Chelsea's manager entered the summer with promise of at least one stellar new recruit. Yesterday he started his second Premier League season with a squad shorn of four elite internationals. In their places a hard-running, tidy-thinking Brazilian in Ramires and a winger who failed to hold down a shirt in the worst Liverpool side for a decade in Yossi Benayoun.

Fernando Torres? Ancelotti might wonder if his employer seriously tried. It is not in home matches against West Bromwich Albion that such rigours will affect the course of Chelsea's season. After a troubled pre-season, Ancelotti's team reprised the form that brought them a League record 103 goals last term. Didier Drogba kick-started the scoring with a free kick Scott Carson could not hold - the rebound was converted by Florent Malouda - and another that flew well beyond the goalkeeper's left hand; the second half brought the still semi-fit Ivorian two more goals, to complete a hat-trick, the standard Frank Lampard finish and another for Malouda.

"I think we did our job, nothing special," said Ancelotti. "It is a message for us because we had a difficult pre-season and now everything has come back to be OK for us." It is against a more powerful top half of the table that Abramovich will discover if it is possible to retain the title while spending less. The one common denominator to Chelsea's close season has been the economising. Michael Ballack was released without a farewell phone call - and against Ancelotti's wishes. Ricardo Carvalho rejoined Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid after Chelsea reneged on a gentleman's agreement to upgrade his contract.

Throw in the departures of Deco and Joe Cole and more than £17 million (Dh98.5m) has been lopped off the wage bill yet Ancelotti was not allowed his choice of replacement. The pound pinching did not end there. Senior players were irked by the dismissal the club's head of security, his position officially redundant. It is not hard to imagine what they thought of the decision to reduce performance bonuses.

"The new rules from Uefa requires a club to balance its books," said Bruce Buck, the Chelsea chairman, yesterday. "Every club has to look at its expenses and adjust it." Ancelotti, as is his wont, stayed out of the argument: "I'm not interested in this because this is a deal between the players and the owner." Entering the season on the back of four straight defeats, the Italian found himself in the unusual position of expecting midweek internationals to improve his players' fitness. Returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time as a manager, Roberto Di Matteo may have sensed unlikely opportunity. There was precious little.

Snaking inventively around the left of Chelsea's three-man attack, Malouda was breaking into the penalty area when newly signed centre-back Pablo Ibanez brought him down. Drogba struck a free kick that Carson could only palm back into the danger area, where Malouda ultimately netted through the unfortunate Graham Dorrans' legs. Where others might have collapsed, West Brom kept their aplomb, passing on the deck and working half chances. Dorrans' shuffled shot stretched Petr Cech; the Scot's pass put in an offside Roman Bednar to net.

Chelsea's creation was superior. With Lampard and Michael Essien timing their attacking runs well and Ashley Cole pushing high on the left, chances flowed. Malouda hit the post; Carson popped Lampard's free kick out to the Frenchman who headed marginally over. The second came with half time. Again, the visitors conceded a free kick within Drogba's long range. Again, the African went for goal, his shot slipping through the wall and spinning beyond Carson, the former England keeper.

Dorrans twice came close to cutting the deficit in the second half only for his team to concede from another dead ball. Allowed a free run at Malouda's corner, Terry's drifting header was cleared off the line only for Drogba to barrel the ball over it. "The first three goals were bad in the sense they were from set pieces and we made mistakes," said Di Matteo. "But we won't play Chelsea every week."

Next, Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole combined to tee up Lampard, who took his opportunity astutely before making way for that new wideman, Yossi Benayoun. Di Matteo rested Dorrans' suspect groin and Chelsea stretched further away - Drogba's shot from the apex of the area flying in off Gabriel Tamas's forehead. On full time, Malouda broke the offside trap to make it six. Others will not succumb the same way.