Yesterday's 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Harding was as apt a time as any to reflect on the inconceivable trans-formation of a club the former co-owner would frankly not recognise.
Harding would no doubt have struggled most to reconcile Saturday's images of Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack; not, perhaps, the simple sight of them turning out in blue, but more the manner in which they scampered towards the fans, desperate for a few pats on the head, like a puppy dog might after fetching its first bone. After both had scored their debut Premiership home goals, it was if they were saying: "See, I am good enough to play for you." It was yet another one of those Chelsea pinch-yourself moments.
Of course, it is pointless to wonder what might have been if the would-be "King of the Shed" had not been killed in that helicopter crash (after all, if Roman Abramovich ever wants something, the identity of the possessor is usually an irrelevance). Just as it was pointless for Portsmouth to feel aggrieved with their lot after their courageous but ultimately inferior display. "You know the boys are a bit down, feel they could have got something," their manager Harry Redknapp said. "But what can you do? It's difficult coming down here. It's a different level, really."
Indeed it is - even when you are a Portsmouth team Redknapp ranks among the finest he has managed. There is no shame in it, as the fact is Chelsea seem to be whirring up to their best, a suspicion Jose Mourinho is harbouring as vehemently as any. "For me the good thing is that we're getting points and yet the best has still to come," the Chelsea manager said. "We had a very difficult pre-season, but are top of the League [Manchester United regained their place at the top yesterday] and our Champions' League group. Sheva will score more goals, Ballack will score more goals and other players will improve. Yes, it is going very nicely."
That was a scary statement, made all the more spine-tingling by what Chelsea have been through in this last eight days. It is nigh on impossible to imagine any other club losing two goalkeepers in such controversial circumstances as Mourinho's men did at Reading and still being able to rack up three victories, one of which was against some outfit called Barcelona. Down the Bridge, distraction is apparently something only the opposing side are driven to.
Naturally, in the immediate wake of this seventh Premiership win from nine, the headlines would scream of the belated contributions of Shevchenko and Ballack, although in truth neither looked anywhere near as spectacular as the world knows they can be and, indeed, the latter was too often anonymous.
By contrast, the spotlight rarely left Arjen Robben, although the celestial operator must have some reaction speed to have kept up with him. The Dutchman was instrumental in both of the goals - coming in a two-minute spell around the hour-mark as Portsmouth's defences finally gave - and made Noe Paramot suffer such a torrid afternoon that this proud professional appeared close to tears. As sick as a Paramot just about summed it up.
"Arjen is coming back to the very top of his game and gives us so many options," said Mourinho, characteristically showing no shame in dropping him against Barcelona, or, indeed, after bafflingly taking him off here with a quarter remaining. "Today he played very well. I think he was a bit disappointed in himself that he didn't score. But I prefer to say he didn't because David James played very well also."
In fact, the Portsmouth goalkeeper was the essential ingredient in the mini-fightback as without his first-half array of goal-stops, there would have been nothing but consolation for Benjani Mwaruwari to scrap for in the 69th minute mêlée. Redknapp was later asked to push his summer signing's case for an England recall, which he did, but afterwards he admitted that James' international days are probably behind him. "I don't think he will get back," he said. "I get the feeling they are looking to show they are building their own team and he doesn't seem to be part of that. God knows why, though, because he's fantastic. You should see him train. Honestly, you wouldn't believe it. He's still determined to improve. It's amazing." As too are Chelsea. Onwards and, if possible, ever upwards.
Goals: Shevchenko (55) 1-0; Ballack (57) 2-0; Mwaruwari (69) 2-1.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole; Essien, Lampard, Ballack (Boulahrouz, 90); Robben (J Cole, 66), Shevchenko (Makelele, 76), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Makaba-Makalamby (gk), Wright-Phillips.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Pamarot, Primus, Campbell, Taylor; O'Neil, Mendes (Thompson, 83), Fernandes (Andrew Cole, 58), Kranjcar; Mwaruwari, Kanu (Davis, 46). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), O'Brien.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).
Booked: Chelsea Shevchenko, Ballack, J Cole; Portsmouth Pamarot, Mendes.
Man of the match: Robben.
Attendance: 41,838.Reuse content