Chelsea whoop it up

Chelsea’s Michael Essien (second from left) celebrates with team-mates after breaching the Birmingham defence.-AP Chelsea’s Michael Essien (second from left) celebrates with team-mates after breaching the Birmingham defence.

There was festiveness about Mourinho’s side as they set a new league record of 64 unbeaten home matches in the top flight, writes Kevin McCarra.

Chelsea’s Michael Essien

It was a little harder than expected to tell the Blues from the Blues. Inside the last 10 minutes Tal Ben Haim was hoofing the ball over his own crossbar to avert a Birmingham City equaliser and such harum-scarum moments did not go down well with every Stamford Bridge regular. The television producers were soon cutting to the pensive countenance of the owner Roman Abramovich, who had his hands pressed to his face.

He was getting a first meaningful look at the consequences of his new manifesto of exuberance for Chelsea. With two wingers and a pair of strikers the side made space for itself at the price of allowing scope for the visitors. While the victory was deserved, Birmingham must have left London wondering what might have been had their goalkeeper Colin Doyle not been culpable when Claudio Pizarro and then Michael Essien scored.

The free and easy approach does have benefits for Chelsea none the less. It might have had something to do with the transformation of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Never before has he been so eager and, simultaneously, poised in this jersey. As with any winger the level of his confidence can be seen in the quality of the crossing. After Birmingham had hit the opener, it was his exact cut-back that set up Pizarro’s equaliser.

Franck Queudrue was helpless before him and had to be replaced as Steve Bruce switched Stephen Kelly to left-back. The distress in such matters was not, however, confined to Birmingham. Glen Johnson had as miserable a time for Chelsea. Nothing appears to have altered since he was an exciting youngster at West Ham who had still to learn how to defend.

Birmingham took the lead after a quarter of an hour by winning two headers from a Gary McSheffrey free-kick, the debutant and captain for the day Liam Ridgewell helping the ball on before Mikael Forssell nodded beyond Petr Cech.

The pickings came more easily for the person currently turning out at centre-forward in the Stamford Bridge line-up. With 18 minutes gone, Essien swept an imperious pass to the right and Wright-Phillips exchanged passes with Florent Malouda before locating Pizarro. The Peruvian’s low finish was not kept out by the palms of Doyle.

There was sustenance in this for the fans’ hope that Chelsea now have an appropriately ample squad. With Andriy Shevchenko absent and Didier Drogba not introduced until the 64th minute, the team was still suitably staffed in the middle of the attack, where Salomon Kalou is continuing to improve.

The latter was the key to the goal that put Chelsea ahead after 31 minutes. Once a Malouda through-ball had been helped on by Frank Lampard it was Kalou who slipped the pass that let Malouda re-enter the move by scoring.

It could be called effortless, but that is scarcely the correct adjective for a winger who pours so much endeavour and ability into his displays. At £13.5m, the purchase is looking inspired. Even so, there was meagre opportunity for anyone at Chelsea to bask in self-satisfaction.

Olivier Kapo could keep a lot of opponents on their toes this campaign. Birmingham’s acquisition from Juventus had been on loan to Levante, suggesting a career deflected from its proper course, but he was not diverted here. Coming in from the left, he got the break of the ball as he ran at Johnson and unleashed a savage shot beyond Cech in the 36th minute.

The openings were more numerous for Chelsea, but Bruce will have misgivings about the winner. Wright-Phillips pulled the ball back after 50 minutes, but although Essien’s drive was powerful it also had a trajectory beneficial to a goalkeeper. Doyle, celebrating his 22nd birthday and widely appreciated as possessing great potential, should have done better than to help it home.

If it is any consolation to the Irishman, Chelsea oozed creativity, merited the win and might have enjoyed a greater margin. There was festiveness about them as they set a new league record of 64 unbeaten home matches in the top flight.


August 12: Arsenal 2 (Van Persie pen-84, Hleb 90) bt Fulham 1 (Healy 1). Half-time: 0-1; Chelsea 3 (Pizarro 17, Malouda 31, Essien 50) bt Birmingham 2 (Forssell 15, Kapo 36). Half-time: 2-2; Manchester United 0 drew with Reading 0.

August 11: Aston Villa 1 (Barry pen-85) lost to Liverpool 2 (Laursen o.g. 31, Gerrard 87). Half-time: 0-1; Bolton 1 (Anelka 50) lost to Newcastle 3 (N’Zogbia 11, Martins 21 & 27). Half-time: 0-3; Derby 2 (Oakley 5, Todd 84) drew with Portsmouth 2 (Mwaruwari 27, Utaka 83). Half-time: 1-1; Everton 2 (Osman 26, Anichebe 75) bt Wigan 1 (Sibierski 80). Half-time: 1-0; Middlesbrough 1 (Downing 31) lost to Blackburn 2 (Santa Cruz 63, Derbyshire 79). Half-time: 1-0; Sunderland 1 (Chopra 90) bt Tottenham 0. Half-time: 0-0; West Ham 0 lost to Manchester City 2 (Bianchi 18, Geovanni 87). Half-time: 0-1.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007