If Chelsea had suffered a slight bout of pre-Christmas indigestion, drawing at Everton on Monday and having John Terry sent off for his much-discussed red card, then West Bromwich Albion turned out to be the perfect palliative. It only took Didier Drogba, starting his first game since mid-November, three minutes to score Chelsea's first goal and thereafter they were in complete and utter control and on their way to their first home League win since 1 November and the 5-0 rout of Sunderland.
Luiz Felipe Scolari spurned the chance to talk up a Chelsea side that had lost its way at Stamford Bridge in the last couple of months, leaving the explanations to his assistant, Ray Wilkins. Faced with a West Brom team at the bottom of the table, this was as good a time as any to experiment and this was the first start for the pairing of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. Losing Terry to his three-game suspension was never going to be the biggest of Scolari's problems over Christmas, although he almost had another to deal with, as Michael Ballack shoved Chris Brunt in the face late on, although the referee, Rob Styles, only gave a yellow card to the German, who was possibly saved from a red as Brunt did not fall to the ground.
Wilkins was happy with what he saw, especially the combinations of the front three, as he views Joe Cole as a forward. He said: "The players' movement was exceptional and I'm delighted with more competition in the squad." Drogba is happy to play with anyone as long as the team plays to his strengths, one of them being his aerial prowess. At the first opportunity Joe Cole lofted a ball to the far post and Drogba, outjumping the ineffective Gianni Zuiverloon, twisted his neck to head beyond Scott Carson. It was his first goal since the ill-fated Carling Cup home defeat against Burnley last month, when he threw a coin back into the crowd and was suspended for three games. More surprisingly, in his first League start for exactly three months, it was his first League goal of the season. Less surprising was his failure to last much more than an hour, taken off as a precaution with a slight thigh strain. By then, however, he should have scored at least twice more.
By dropping Deco, one of his core players, Scolari was making another bold statement. It certainly made Joe Cole's day more enjoyable, as it has usually been him who comes on for the Portuguese midfielder. This time the opposite was true and he made his point with a convincing display, something Wilkins, and therefore Scolari, noted.
Having seen Frank Lampard and Ballack waste a series of chances after Drogba's strike, and Ashley Cole force a flying save from Carson, who pushed the ball on to the post, Joe Cole set up the second goal. An incisive pass let in Ashley Cole, who had made a clever run. A fortunate ricochet let the ball run to Lampard, who evaded one tackle and chipped Carson neatly for his first goal since the Sunderland game.
While Carson was busy, his counterpart, Petr Cech, barely had a save to make. Given Chelsea's recent vulnerability at home, and West Brom's last-minute win over Manchester City a week ago, this could have been an opportunity for Tony Mowbray, the West Brom manager, to get his players to attack their hosts. But it was a chance they passed up entirely, appearing limply to accept their fate once Drogba had scored. Chelsea's Christmas headache is over.
Goals: Drogba (3) 1-0; Lampard (45) 2-0.
Chelsea (4-3-3): P Cech; Bosingwa (Belletti, h-t), Ivanovic, Alex, A Cole; Mikel, Ballack, Lampard; J Cole (Deco, 79), Drogba (Malouda, 66), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ferreira, Kalou, Mineiro.
West Bromwich Albion (4-5-1): Carson; Zuiverloon, Meite (Barnett, 27), Olsson, Robinson; Morrison, Kim (Bednar, 69), Greening, Koren, Brunt; Beattie (Moore, 60). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), M Cech, Dorrans, Valero.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Chelsea Ballack.
Man of the match: J Cole.
Attendance: 43,417.Reuse content