Man-Down Blues Drop 4 Unanswered Goals on Stupefied Hammers Side

Most clubs would have drowned. Most clubs, when stunned by an early deficit and a sending off, would fold. Consider the amount of pressure the 10 men in blue were feeling when Portugese aquisition Maniche was sent off within the first 20 minutes of the contest. Already a goal down after a set-piece score by Hammer defender James Collins, the Chelsea faithful almost had a heart-attack as Maniche made his way to the locker room in shame. A poor tackle, yes, but before his dangerous red-card bearing shin stomp, Maniche had already blown a clear shot on net by striking a cream puff off the cross bar. It simply was not going well at all for Chelsea. United breathing down their necks, the prospect of losing at Stamford Bridge for the first time in over two years, and the current opponent dominating play, John Terry and Didier Drogba decided to take over the game and put on one of Chelsea’s most dominating, inspiring performances of the 2005-2006 campaign.

Drogba was simply brilliant. He almost single-handedly brought back Chelsea from the grave, scoring the equalizer and then setting up Crespo’s go-ahead goal with a perfect cross from the right side. Pumping his fist and pleading with the crowd to get behind the team, Drogba abandoned his recently lambasted antics and did what he does best…play aggressive, exciting football. Drogba was all over the field, terrorizing the West Ham defense that seemed to have no control over their emminent fate. The boys from Upton Park looked bedazzled by the inspired barrage of Chelsea, their scoring chances, despite their numerical superiority, dashed by the Blues back line. William Gallas was in fine form, while Lampard and Essien played key roles in tackling and keeping the attack going. The strike partnership of Crespo and Drogba, wearing identical headbands in a likeably ostentatious display of offensive brotherhood, flattened the West Ham defense with blistering pace and skill. It was obvious that charisma flowed between the two, and I’d love to see the partnership continue.

No wings were used at all in the first half, and it seemed that Maniche’s tendancy to drift back to the center midfield was hurting the Chelsea attack, clogging up the passing lanes and preventing Drogba from owning the game. Once Maniche was gone, Chelsea was ignited.
Relief flowed through the Stamford Bridge crowd, especially Roman Abrahmovich. The normally reserved owner was ecstatic and energized by the Blues’ brilliant play, noticably giddy and showing a side of himself rarely seen in his days as Chelsea boss. This game was fun. In fact, it was better than that. It was an assertion that Chelsea is a true power in the English game and will not collapse in the face of pressure. Second half goals by defenders Gallas and Terry showcased the diversity of the Chelsea attack, and the general bliss shown on the faces of the side as the match came to a close are a testament to their shared mission.

Still, the choice of Maniche to begin the game was baffling, and the absence of wings before Maniche’s booking seemed to hinder the Chelsea gameplan. Joe Cole, a finalist both Chelsea and Premiership Player of the Year, is to me the obvious choice for the spot Maniche was roaming. Cole’s absence in the side, reflected in his playing under 30 minutes in three of the last four Chelsea matches, must reflect some sort of disappointment Mourinho has in the talented midfielder. Cole seems to either be Mourinho’s favorite player on the pitch, or the bane of his existence.

Nonetheless, Chelsea’s comeback may have been their best football of the year. Drogba’s performance was transcendant, and his worth to the side has never been more apparent. There was no sign of the diving or acting that he’s been accused of. It seems the already gifted striker may have taken his game to a new level, and it would be wonderful to see him emerge as a team leader and motivator. At any rate, I trust that the Blues’ gutsy performance against West Ham will propel them to another victory over Bolton this Saturday.

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