Duff lights Mourinho's Blue touchpaper

Charlton Athletic 0 Chelsea 4
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The Independent Football

The Premiership's Great Divide was all too apparent again yesterday afternoon, as Charlton Athletic, a team who began the season with pretensions of pushing for a place in Europe, were overwhelmed on their own pitch by opponents in a financial league of their own. Furthermore, Chelsea are five points clear of everyone else and, as a result of their recent scoring spree, now have a better goal difference than Arsenal, who need a win at Liverpool this afternoon just to keep in touch. The meeting of the two London giants at Highbury a fortnight today looms closer and looks ever more critical.

The Premiership's Great Divide was all too apparent again yesterday afternoon, as Charlton Athletic, a team who began the season with pretensions of pushing for a place in Europe, were overwhelmed on their own pitch by opponents in a financial league of their own. Furthermore, Chelsea are five points clear of everyone else and, as a result of their recent scoring spree, now have a better goal difference than Arsenal, who need a win at Liverpool this afternoon just to keep in touch. The meeting of the two London giants at Highbury a fortnight today looms closer and looks ever more critical.

Jose Mourinho's side, criticised early in his reign as dull, have scored 19 times in the last six League games, while losing one match in 22 all season, conceding just seven goals. The statistics for Charlton are rather more depressing, with far fewer shots than any other side in the Premiership. Despite a famous 4-2 victory over the same visitors last Boxing Day, this was never going to be the day for altering that, for Mourinho's Chelsea are a different proposition to Claudio Ranieri's, as all Europe is coming to realise.

This game was a good contest for four minutes, until Damien Duff put Chelsea ahead, two goals by John Terry just after the interval ensuring there would be no repeat of Bolton's recovery to snatch a draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Eidur Gudjohnsen then sentenced Charlton to follow Blackburn, West Bromwich and Fulham in conceding four to Mourinho's marauders in the past month. It is dull only in its predictability.

The gulf between the two clubs was illustrated last winter when Chelsea decided they wanted Charlton's outstanding player, the young midfielder Scott Parker, and after making sure he knew of their interest, simply kept pushing the price up until their neighbours bowed to the inevitable and pocketed the £10 million on offer. They kept spending in the summer, hiring an unquestionably brilliant coach as well as a new crop of international players and so were able yesterday to bring on a £24m striker when leading 4-0. Somehow it all rather offends English notions of fair play for the little man.

Unfortunately for those who enjoy seeing the likes of Charlton slaying a giant from time to time, Alan Curbishley has not spent much of the Parker money with his usual efficacy and will need better returns from the £3m left to invest in January than he has received so far from Danny Murphy, Francis Jeffers and Dennis Rommedahl. To make his predicament worse, other significant performers like Paolo Di Canio, Claus Jensen and Richard Rufus are no longer available either, so matching last season's seventh place would be a momentous achievement.

Home supporters hoping for the opportunity to abuse Parker for his perceived disloyalty - or applaud his service to the club - were denied it by Mourinho's sensible decision to leave him out of Chelsea's 16. Not that there was anything unusual in that; Parker has made only seven appearances this season, although Sven Goran Eriksson commended the most recent of them, against Paris St-Germain in midweek. Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard and Tiago were again the midfield trio with Arjen Robben and Duff outside them as Mourinho reverted to his favoured system and strongest available line-up. It proved more than good enough, with Tiago outstanding, while Murphy was disappointingly ineffective.

With Hermann Hreidarsson not fully fit, Curbishley brought in Paul Konchesky - one of Eriksson's one-cap wonders - who was exposed within four minutes by a diagonal pass from Gudjohnsen that Duff latched on to, holding the defender off before dinking his shot cleverly past Dean Kiely into the far corner of the net.

Mourinho's only complaint was that his side allowed Charlton back into the game for a short period before half-time, in which Ricardo Carvalho, having headed a clear chance over the bar, was closer to scoring an own goal. Shaun Bartlett, intermittently a threat in the air, nodded on Talal El Karkouri's free-kick and Carvalho headed on to a post and behind.

Three goals in 12 minutes at the start of the second half ensured Charlton would be in no position to emulate Bolton's revival last week. The first followed a wild scramble in which Tiago vainly claimed a penalty. His pleas hardly mattered, for Duff's corner was smartly headed in by Terry for his first League goal of the season. Three minutes later he had his second, also after a corner, Radostin Kishishev obligingly nudging the ball square for him.

Nine minutes more and another goal: the centre of Charlton's defence was pulled apart again, this time by Lampard's through ball with the outside of the foot, Gudjohnsen ghosting behind El Karkouri to score comfortably.

Mourinho decided that was the perfect time to introduce Didier Drogba, and Curbishley went for as comprehensive a revamp as he was allowed with a triple substitution. He could have changed all 11 for the good it was likely to do, but the three newcomers did at least have something to prove and two of them soon combined to create their team's best chance. Rommedahl, receiving the rebound from El Karkouri's fearsome free-kick, chipped to the far post where Hreidarsson headed wide.

"It is important to show people we can cope with being top," Chelsea's manager said. He has plenty of experience of that, and now his team are gaining it too.

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