The scoreline might have flattered them, but Chelsea were at their ruthless best as they eased into the last eight of the FA Cup.
Out-of-sorts Cole left in shade
LONDON // The scoreline might have flattered them, but Chelsea were at their ruthless best as they eased into the last eight of the FA Cup. So too was their manager Carlo Ancelotti, who left Joe Cole in no doubt that he needs to raise his game if he is to play a bigger role at the club. Out of contract in the summer and struggling to justify a place in England's World Cup squad, it has been a difficult time for Cole since his return from a knee ligament injury.
He was particularly ineffective in the first half as Chelsea struggled against Cardiff. Ancelotti replaced him at the break with Salomon Kalou, who gave the home side more energy and rounded off the scoring four minutes from time by twisting to steer a header past David Marshall. Ray Wilkins, the Chelsea assistant coach, said: "Joe wasn't injured, it was a tactical thing. We have got a squad full of quality and therefore the manager will change things if he sees fit. We take Joe off and we bring quality on, so we are fortunate. When you have had a long lay off like Joe, it really is a shock to the system and it does take a while to get back into your tip-top form. That will come. He is working extremely hard day-by-day, so we don't see any problems."
Wilkins's words might be reassuring, but there are obvious problems. Cole looks to lack the confidence that made him such a threat for club and country. That is not a problem for Didier Drogba, who continued his fine form. He scored his 23rd goal of the season and was involved in strikes for Michael Ballack and Daniel Sturridge. Wilkins praised Drogba, Ballack and Frank Lampard for guiding the cup holders through a tricky tie.
"It's not so much their class, but their professionalism that shines through," Wilkins added. "Some people might think this was going to be a cushty game for us, but those guys took it by the throat and pulled us through when we weren't playing particularly well. Our team was changed, but we took quality out and quality came back in. We want to win every game we play." They may be in different leagues, but how Cardiff's defence were not alive to Drogba's danger is baffling. Less than two minutes had gone when he found acres of space to run onto Mikel John Obi's pass, let the ball drop and volleyed past Marshall.
Six minutes after the break, Drogba was the architect for Chelsea's decisive second, picking out the run of Ballack, who coolly flicked the ball past Marshall. In between, Chelsea's approach and ability to defend set pieces again left a lot to be desired. With John Terry missing, Alex and Ricardo Carvalho struggled. Peter Whittingham's delivery was dynamite - a "Premier League left-foot" according to Wilkins - and produced moments that left Ancelotti anxious.
Cardiff's Hungarian defender Gabor Gyepes forced Alex to make a crucial block before Hilario, replacing Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal, stretched superbly to his right to push out a powerful hea-der from Anthony Gerrard. Michael Chopra did level at 1-1 in the 34th minute. Chris Burke swung in a left-wing cross that the striker glanced past Hilario. But Chelsea learned their lesson after the break and Ballack's goal began a period of dominance against the Championship side.
Sturridge squeezed in a third after combining with Drogba, before Kalou headed home Paulo Ferreira's cross. It left Dave Jones, the Cardiff manager, and his players deflated. "It's hard on them. The scoreline looks like it's been a bit of a drubbing, but it was far from that. "Probably just little bit, or a lot of, quality, has come through for them. I decided to come here and have a go rather than shut up shop. That's not what we are all about. You don't come to places like this and play as well as you have and be downhearted, so we go again."