James Lawton: Awesome confirmation Chelsea do not do abdication

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The Independent Football

You don't have to love Chelsea - no more than an ungovernable woman - to marvel at their power to destroy.

Here, in what could easily have proved a decisive blow to their pursuit of Manchester United, it raged so spectacularly that Sir Alex Ferguson's richly talented team must have felt they were carrying balls and chains on to Upton Park when the drama and the artillery fire were spent finally here.

That burden came with the knowledge that whatever they achieve before and after the crucial visit to Stamford Bridge in April, they are unlikely to enjoy any pause or any peace. As a performance of seamless football quality this was not exactly a masterpiece. But as a statement of intent, as a roaring restatement of their ambition, it was nothing less than overpowering.

Twice Everton lifted themselves to levels of performance and optimism that had been elusive for most of the season. But when they did it, and on both occasions took the lead, the effect was less of a wound to the reigning champions than a provocation.

Three times Chelsea produced goals of such atavistic power they created an awesome sense that they simply could not be beaten, whatever Everton did - and much of it was as enterprising as it was courageous, considering the odds. It was impossible to escape the suspicionst their ultimate reward would be futility.

There was a sense of the implacable weight of Chelsea last week when Michael Essien scored something as close to a nuclear strike as we are ever likely to see on a football field to deny Arsenal three points. Yesterday, Everton, even more profoundly, were not so much denied as engulfed.

A free-kick by Michael Ballack and the sweetest of drives by Frank Lampard provided striking evidence of Chelsea's unwillingness to be checked, but it was the winner from Didier Drogba that will surely swirl in the psyche of United for the rest of the season.

It was not so much a 35-yard shot as the precisely aimed Exocet missile. The Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, for much of the time surprisingly unemployed, could be no more than a thunderstruck observer. The implications for United had to be huge. You cannot shake off this Chelsea team, no more than you can embrace warmly so much of the nature of their football and their style. It is mostly the football of sheer power and athleticism, but if you ever wonder how much talent can be compressed into such narrow patterns of endeavour, there is always that promise of something that simply cannot be contained.

The style is, of course, strident and opportunistic and one-eyed to a chilling degree. Here we had, for example, to negotiate another outbreak of Jose Mourinho's double standards before we could begin to admire the extraordinary resilience and motivation of his team. He gestured that Andy Johnson, Everton's revived striker, was a diver and a police detail felt impelled to warn Mourinho's assistant Steve Clarke about the behaviour of the Chelsea bench.

That Mourinho, the manager of Arjen Robben and Drogba, should complain about the evils of diving seemed, as always, bizarre, especially when Johnson's innocence seemed obvious to any detached observer. But then this is the Mourinho trading package. It will never be attractive, but the effect of his work has never been more obvious and, in its way, impressive.

This was Chelsea at their most relentlessly functional. There were times when the football of Everton, often inspired by the creative impulses of Mikel Arteta, and the promising movement of the big 18-year-old Victor Anichebe, formed a counterpoint of thrilling possibilities. But always there was a feeling that it would not be quite enough, that somehow Chelsea would find a way to put down all their hopes.

Ultimately, it lay in the power and the extraordinary touch of Drogba. It is terrifying to think of what the man from the Ivory Coast might achieve if he always kept his feet, and his concentration, in pursuit of legitimate action. Shortly before his moment of climactic brilliance, he conjured a strike so unexpected, so dazzling, Everton were reduced to stunned witnesses as the ball flew back off a post. This was the football of a god, one deeply flawed no doubt, but on this day the most extravagant example of the deadly resources of the team who will never be easily curbed.

There is no defence against such smouldering potential to wipe out opposition. It means that United have to accept that they have to race all the way to the finish line - without the beginnings of a guarantee.

Whatever they do they will be haunted by the presence of Chelsea - and the kind of goals that flowed from an extraordinary will.

The champions have plainly not given abdication a single thought.

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