It might have taken 11 games and two months to arrive, but when Frank Lampard slammed a shot past the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo last night, Stamford Bridge could at last be assured that normal service had been resumed.
Chelsea's favourite son finally broke his scoring hex, the trimming on a performance of complete and utter domination from Carlo Ancelotti's team. The Premier League may have thrown up two straight away defeats for Chelsea but the Champions League has yielded no such problems and certainly not yesterday against poor old Atletico with their third win in three.
The Premier League 1, La Liga 0. Atletico were Spain's fourth-placed team last season but this time around they have plummeted to 15th and all their problems were laid bare by a remorseless Chelsea performance. Any team that concedes two goals to the erratic blunderbuss finishing of Salomon Kalou, as Atletico did last night, do not need telling twice that they have serious problems.
By the end Atletico saved Chelsea the trouble and put the fourth goal in their own net themselves. The most impressive statistic of all after three games in the Champions League is that Chelsea are now the only team in the competition who are yet to concede a goal. For Ancelotti, whose side have lost recently to Wigan and Aston Villa, the pressure eases.
This was the last game for which Didier Drogba was banned by Uefa for his meltdown against Barcelona last season and Chelsea have not yet dropped a point. Once again Nicolas Anelka was an excellent stand-in, especially compared to Sergio Aguero, Atletico's Argentine striker. Whoever suggested he was worth £50m last summer needs to take a long lie-down in a darkened room after his hapless performance last night.
Chelsea were in such control by the end of the game that Ancelotti felt sufficiently confident to give Daniel Sturridge his Champions League debut 12 minutes from the end. There was a run-out for Yuri Zhirkov too but no opportunity for Joe Cole, substitute again, who remains, apart from one Carling Cup start and two substitute performances, strangely ignored by Ancelotti.
Last night was Lampard's first goal since his penalty against Sunderland on 18 August, and while Ancelotti later played down the significance of his goalscoring there is little doubt that the man himself sees it as a crucial part of his game. As a 20-goal-a-season midfielder, Lampard will always attract attention when he does not score goals. As for Chelsea, they have come to rely upon them.
By the end the Chelsea fans were feeling sufficiently sure of themselves to break into a few verses of "Are you watching Liverpool?" Unlike their old adversaries, Chelsea require only two points from their remaining three games to be sure of qualification and you would assume that, if Atletico's poor form continues, they will get them in Madrid next month.
Chelsea's success over the last six years has been divided between those players who are core to the club's success and others who have been happy to ride shotgun for the glory. Into the latter category falls Kalou, a perfectly adequate footballer who has never quite reached the same heights as some of his compadres.
On some occasions, Kalou, who signed a new four-year deal this month, can look the part and other times he can sink without trace in a squad so brimful of talent. He took his goalscoring record to 33 on his 160th Chelsea appearance last night but it would be stretching it to say he had a good first half.
First of all he strayed offside when Lampard hit a 30-yard free-kick and ensured that the goal, fumbled into the net by Asenjo, was disallowed. From Michael Ballack's cross on 16 minutes, Kalou arrived right on cue to place his shot from 10 yards wide of the post. A John Terry header on 37 minutes was pushed wide from Kalou, who had managed to get himself offside anyway.
The beauty of playing in front of such a gifted midfield as Chelsea's is that sooner or later they will make you a chance that you cannot fail to miss – even Andrei Shevchenko used to score occasionally. And so it came four minutes from the end of the first half. Lampard passed down the left; Ballack dummied; Ashley Cole crossed and Kalou kept his shot from seven yards under the crossbar.
Atletico have an enviable forward line in Aguero, Diego Forlan and Simao Sabrosa but, apart from an early header from Forlan, they barely threatened Petr Cech at all. On 52 minutes, Chelsea scored their second. Lampard's corner found Kalou at the back post and he headed the ball down and inside the post.
Lampard's goal came from the left. He was played in by Michael Essien and hit his shot inside Asenjo's near post. A truly dreadful display by Atletico was capped by Luis Perea heading Florent Malouda's free-kick into his own goal in injury-time. You suspect that Blackburn Rovers will provide a stiffer test for Chelsea on Saturday.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Belletti, Ivanovic, Terry, A Cole (Malouda 75); Essien; Kalou (Zhirkov 73), Ballack, Lampard, Deco; Anelka (Sturridge 78). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Carvalho, J Cole, Bruma.
Atletico Madrid (4-5-1): Asenjo; Ufjalusi, Perea, Dominguez, Lopez; Forlan, Santana (Rodriguez, 65), Garcia, Assuncao (Jurado, 54), Simao (Reyes 77); Aguero. Substitutes not used: De Gea (gk), Sinama Pongolle, Juanito, Ibanez.
Referee: F Meyer (Germany).Reuse content