Florent Malouda of Chelsea scores his team's second goal as Steven Reid of West Brom closes in during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on August 20, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Well, Chelsea managed to get their first win of the season, but it sure didn't come easy against a team many expected the Blues to simply roll over. West Bromwich Albion were in town, and with Roy Hodgson in charge nobody expected a repeat of the 6-0 performance at the beginning of last year - they were going to bunker in and defend hard and probably prove extremely difficult to break down - but a the same time, very few would have predicted that they'd have ridden Chelsea hard enough that it took an 83rd minute winner from Florent Malouda for the Blues to earn the full points.
But they did indeed make it very difficult for the hosts, thanks mostly to a very early goal that shocked Chelsea into insensibility. Andre Villas-Boas made only two switches to the team that fought Stoke City to a draw at the Britannia Stadium, swapping Nicolas Anelka for Florent Malouda and Henrique Hilario for Petr Cech and retaining his 4-3-3 shape. Tactics played zero part in the opening goal, however.
A poor pass from Ramires sold compatriot Alex hugely short, and as Shane Long raced onto the ball the centre half found himself out-muscled by the former Reading striker. Long held off Alex as he motored into the penalty area and clipped expertly over Hilario, who could do absolutely nothing about the goal. Three whole minutes had elapsed, and things were starting to fall apart.
Chelsea hadn't played particularly poorly prior to the goal, although it's hard to know whether or not that's because there were fine or because nobody had any time to notice that they were playing poorly. Regardless of how they started, after the goal things went horribly wrong. Passes weren't connecting, the decision making was off, and I don't even want to talk about the shooting for most of the first half. After the match, Villas-Boas claimed that the team panicked following the opener, and I'm inclined to agree with him.
Salomon Kalou was perhaps the worst offender, and after 34 minutes (plus a long spell of ineffectiveness against Stoke in the opener), Villas-Boas had had enough and hauled him off the pitch for Malouda. Mock cheers rained down from Stamford Bridge, which was a little harsh - Kalou is a lovely, hard-working guy who's doing his best for the team, and however annoying he can be sometimes being booed off by our own fans at home is a little bit ridiculous.
The change didn't spark an immediate reaction from Chelsea. In fact, the Baggies might have been ahead by two goals rather than one if Long had been a little better better with his passing after sprinting free of John Terry on the right. His centreing pass to Somen Tchoyi was poor, however, and the Cameroonian was unable to get on the end of it, denying the visitors a certain goal.
From Chelsea's perspective, the game needed a spark, and Ashley Cole was the man who decided to provide it, the left back drifting into space and hammering in a shot that Ben Foster did well to push away from the top corner and out for a corner. Cole's strike was the beginning of a mini-revival for the Blues, which also saw Foster cut down Anelka for a penalty (which wasn't given) and a lucky deflection save the visitors from the ignominy of conceding to an Alex free kick.
While the team was down at halftime and playing pretty poorly - it would not have been unfair to criticise Frank Lampard, both centre backs, and Kalou in particular for their contributions to the match, they still were in a good moment going into the break and were able to keep said moment going into the second half. It took less than ten minutes for the Blues to break their season duck, with Nicolas Anelka capitalising on sloppy play (and a great tackle by Ramires) to place a deflected effort in at Foster's far post.
Following the goal, Chelsea dominated, although they did lose a little momentum when Didier Drogba came in for Fernando Torres. With the Blues getting more joy on the flanks than in the centre, the substitution made an element of sense (Drogba being a better target for crosses than Torres), but removing probably the team's most effective player did cause Chelsea's attacking prowess to wane, at least for a few minutes.
They were re-inspired by the introduction of Branislav Ivanovic for a limping Alex. Within a few minutes of coming onto the pitch, the Serbian had, from centre half, pinged in a beautiful cross for Drogba to completely miss, something that was far more annoying at the time than it is in retrospect. The Ivorian's error, of course, was more or less immediately rectified when Jose Bosingwa skipped past a pair of defenders and drove a low cross for Malodua's left foot to sweep in at the far post. 2-1 Chelsea, 83rd minute.
So it would stay through the final whistle, despite the odd scare for Hilario and the introduction of Peter Odemwingie, who mostly ended up picking fights with Terry and Cole rather than causing problems for the rest of the squad (the kick to Cole's groin didn't look particularly amusing, though). Anyway, Chelsea ended up with the win and three points, Andre Villas-Boas' first in charge, and it's refreshing to see them come back from adversity like that. I think most of us would rather that there was no adversity in the first place, but hey, this works.
Chelsea's man of the match?
Fernando Torres (31 votes)
Nicolas Anelka (18 votes)
Henrique Hilario (18 votes)
Jose Bosingwa (34 votes)
Florent Malouda (12 votes)
Other (5 votes)
118 total votes