Ancelotti opens a chasm between great and good
Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea 6
it's fair to assume Chelsea merely exploited a form-line from hell. Amid the pitiful tatters of Wigan's version of defence, however, there was surely a message as substantial as it was brutal.
Carlo Ancelotti's team delivered a frightening statement about the faultline that runs so starkly through the Premier League. On one side of it is Chelsea, as strong at the back as they are potent at the front. On the other, certainly at this early time of speaking, are the rest.
Arsenal, it is true, predictably took apart Wigan's opening-day conquerors Blackpool, and there is no doubt the pre-match mood of utterly legitimate foreboding in this part of Lancashire gave you some idea of what it have been like when the Visigoths gathered at the gates of Rome.
Yet the pattern, and maybe the meaning of the game, was not so predictable. For half an hour, Wigan played to their not inconsiderable strength of attacking flair, so vigorously indeed that, had they made a similar effort against Blackpool, the League of Cruel Sports might have been compelled to intervene before the action at the Emirates.
Unfortunately for Wigan, however, Chelsea absorbed the kind of pressure that was too much for them around this time last year – and for Liverpool and Arsenal in the spring – with an acute poise that must have brought a gleam to Ancelotti's eye.
They then produced football of such decimating precision it did rather more than confirm that Wigan's engaging, attack-minded young manager Roberto Martinez is already on borrowed time to produce a semblance of coherent defence. It suggested that Ancelotti may never have a better chance of winning his fifth European Cup – having won four times before with Milan, twice as a player and twice more as a manager.
"Yes," Ancelotti said happily after the match, "my team was very clinical in the second half and all these goals are a fantasy for me but in the first half it was very difficult and we defended very well.
"My great hope is we understand we have to keep our focus and make sure we have the possibility to win because we have some fantastic players."
Ancelotti, to be sure, carried one huge encouragement back to London. It was not in the volume of scoring – "for me it is like PlayStation," he joked – but in the power and the manner of it. It was – and this is what is so exciting for a man who was devastated by his failure to get the better of Jose Mourinho in last season's Champions League – a masterclass in that quality which most delights the Italian football soul: the art of counter-attack.
With the returning Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel oozing destructive power, Chelsea brought Wigan on to the punch with a savage relish and, failing some catastrophic loss of nerve and understanding of what is required from them this season, they will do it to infinitely better teams than the one that sighed and died midway through the second half of what had turned into an excruciating mismatch.
For Chelsea, it was a triumph of ordered thinking and the most powerful, most skilled response to the pressure they were able to systematically strip down. Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka scored the goals that separated the teams, substitutes Salomon Kalou and Yossi Benayoun added the ones that confirmed Chelsea's relentless mood.
Didier Drogba didn't score. He merely looked immense, a player of players, a man of giant strength and quite wonderful touch. It seemed reasonable to ask Ancelotti what he was feeding Drogba; some ambrosia of the sporting gods, perhaps? But no, said the coach, he was not building Superman; he was merely benefitting from the all-ground game of a great striker with a rare quality: humility.
This attribute hasn't always been advertised in neon – but here it was. His contributions to the goals of Kalou were both exquisitely timed and selfless; first a stunningly precise ball to a better placed team-mate, then a cross so majestic in its timing and trajectory, it surely, with the accompanying flick of Kalou's head, presented a strong challenge as goal of the month.
Beyond such virtuosity – and that of Ashley Cole could not be overlooked as he responded to each burst of booing with play of formidable calibre and a determination that was unceasing – there was the powerful sense of a team which, for all its maturity, if not old age, was moving on to another level of performance.
Malouda – arguably the most improved player in the Premier League – was asked if he was restive about the superior reputation of Arsenal and Manchester United in the matter of pure football? His answer was diplomatic enough but did nothing to erase the impression that Chelsea are indeed intent on producing a transforming phase of their recent development.
"It's difficult to know why people still think that," the 30-year-old Frenchman said. "Even when we finished on top of Arsenal, people still said they played better than us.
"Since the manager came in, he has tried to bring in control of the game and people are seeing an evolution in that sense because we're scoring more goals and getting more clean sheets.
"This is what it is all about if you want to win the League. You have to be efficient but when you see a team like Chelsea scoring so many goals I hope our quality is recognised. But there is one more important thing. We're not playing for glory. Our aim is to win."
It is an ambition of growing refinement. Chelsea dismantled Wigan superbly, predictably. But the inescapable conclusion had to be that this could well be the start of something that sees them surpass all previous achievements.
Wigan Athletic 4-4-2: Kirkland; Gohouri, Alcaraz, Stam, Figurora (Boyce, 84); McCarthy (Watson, 80), Thomas, Diame (McArthur, 80), N'Zogbia; Boselli, Rodallega. Substitutes not used Ali Al Habsi (gk), Moses, Gomez, Scotland.
Chelsea 4-2-3-1: Cech; Ivanovic (Ferreira, 63), Alex, Terry, Cole; Essien (Benayoun, 80), Mikel; Lampard, Malouda (Kalou, 70), Anelka; Drogba. Substitutes not used Hilario (gk), Zhirkov, Van Aanholt, Borini.
Booked Ivanovic, Terry.
Man of the match Drogba.
Possession Wigan 42% Chelsea 58%
Shots on target Wigan 6, Chelsea 8.
Referee M Dean.......... Attendance 14,476.
Match rating 7/10.
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