Chelsea 1 West Ham United 0: Geremi shines but greater test awaits Chelsea

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Should Manchester United beat Chelsea on Sunday it would not, Jose Mourinho said, be "an earthquake" although the ground will certainly open up to six points between the Premiership leaders and the defending champions. He can play it down all he likes, but Old Trafford is where the Chelsea manager will find out whether his side have the look of champions for a third consecutive season.

Even as Chelsea doggedly extinguished the dying embers of West Ham United's resistance on Saturday it was hard not to feel a pang of anticipation for Sunday's match. A game that will ask so much more of Mourinho's new-look side, a contest in which they will not be asked to pound away at yet another five-man midfield but instead test their own attacking capabilities against a United team who, unlike Chelsea, still have some faith in wingers.

Arjen Robben was given a start against West Ham which, in the wider context of Mourinho's strategy, suggests that he will not be using the winger in a week's time. Facing United, it seems, will be a job for Michael Ballack, not even in the squad at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele, the four in Mourinho's wingless midfield. And who can blame Mourinho? Old Trafford will be the sternest test yet of his new team.

Between then is the visit to Werder Bremen on Wednesday from which one point will seal Chelsea's qualification from the Champions' League group stages. Mourinho says that he will play a full-strength team there, although with Levski Sofia at home in the last game of the group he could bank on getting the points later. Certainly he does not owe Barcelona, whose qualification is still not certain, any favours.

In Manchester, there will be no room for passengers. You have to ask where that leaves Andrei Shevchenko, once again the least impressive of Chelsea's players and substituted after 68 minutes, when Robben and Joe Cole make such compelling cases to be included. Robben has suggested that he will leave Chelsea if he is not afforded first-team football - but the Dutchman would be unwise to try to bluff Mourinho.

Elsewhere, you can sense that the right-back position is an issue for Mourinho. Geremi's winning goal was impressive but otherwise the manager has to call on Khalid Boulahrouz, whose last tangle with Cristiano Ronaldo resulted in the worst foul of the summer's World Cup finals.

There is a different set of problems for Alan Pardew, who is likely to learn today that the Icelander Eggert Magnusson has taken control of West Ham. So farewell, then, to Kia Joorabchian, the investor who brought Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano with him, and, most likely, adios to the Argentines themselves.

Whether they are able to leave in January, it is difficult to see what Pardew will lose from their eventual departure. Hayden Mullins is keeping Mascherano out the team, which tells you all you need to know about his success in England. Tevez played a full game against Chelsea and while Pardew was generous in his praise, you could detect that this was a manager trying to give a young player some confidence.

"He is 22, in a division completely different to anything he has played in before," Pardew said. "You must give him time. Our patience has been rewarded in terms of his ability to play here."

And Tevez was not bad, but he is an international who was once potentially a Chelsea signing and should not be content with a marginal contribution. His best moment was stealing the ball from Ashley Cole once and sending in a promising cross although despite Pardew's insistence that he is "lighter than he ever has been" he still seemed off the pace.

Danny Gabbidon conceded the 22nd-minute free-kick which Lampard surprisingly allowed Geremi to take. He struck it sweetly past Robert Green, who, a few yards off his line, may have been fractionally misplaced. The placing of Paul Konchesky on the line allowed Chelsea's players to scatter into the area and block the West Ham goalkeeper's view.

"We can leave Old Trafford top of the League," Mourinho said, but only if his side win 4-0 to edge it on goal difference - and even that may be beyond the champions. Mourinho is disconcertingly chummy with Pardew - a mutual distrust of Arsène Wenger perhaps? -and he even said in his programme notes that he had his best stadium food at Upton Park. An "East End chicken curry", Pardew recalled. Sunday will be even spicier.

Goal: Geremi (22) 1-0.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cudicini; Geremi, Terry, Carvalho (Boulahrouz, h-t), A Cole; Makelele; Essien, Lampard, Robben (Mikel, 83); Drogba, Shevchenko (J Cole, 68). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Wright-Phillips.

West Ham (4-5-1): Green; Spector, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Tevez, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Bowyer (Sheringham, 81), Etherington (McCartney, 81); Zamora (Harewood, 71). Substitutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Dailly.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Chelsea Lampard; West Ham Gabbidon, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Tevez.

Man of the match: Makelele.

Attendance: 41,916.

Comments