Essien adds more weight to Chelsea case for the defence

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The Independent Online

Midway through the goalless first half Charlton Athletic won a free-kick on the edge of the Chelsea box. When the defensive wall lined up, Radostin Kishishev, Charlton's stocky Bulgarian midfielder, stationed himself on the end of it. As Danny Murphy went to take the free-kick he leaned into the end man, Michael Essien, seeking to shrink the wall by muscling him aside, so creating a gap for Murphy to aim at. Essien proved immovable and Murphy's free-kick crashed into Kishishev's chest.

A few years ago Arsenal upped the stakes in the Premiership by fielding a team of footballing athletes, men who could pass, shoot and sprint 100 metres in 12 seconds. Chelsea have taken it on another notch. They can pass, shoot, sprint 100m and bench press 300lb.

"If we forgot about the 90 minutes' football and had a race instead the majority of their players would win it," said Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager. He added: "If we just went to the weights room they'd win that as well. They are athletes. They are so powerful and strong."

Essien is typical of this, one observer suggesting it was like having Sonny Liston on the pitch. While £24.4m still seems a lot to pay for someone without obvious stardust, à la Zinedine Zidane, or many goals, the Ghanaian midfielder is going to be a powerful asset. He mugged Kishishev in midfield after 20 minutes, and released Hernan Crespo, only for the Argentinian to hit the post.

Thirty-five minutes later Claude Makelele robbed Kishishev and this time Crespo dispatched Essien's cross with a firm header. Arjen Robben added a sumptuous second from Damien Duff's pass and it could have been more.

Charlton had won their first four games but, while they competed, never looked like winning the fifth. "It's easy for other clubs to talk about their money," said Curbishley. "That's obviously a major part of it, but the manager has got them organised. They are disciplined, they work hard, they prepare thoroughly. Great credit goes to [Jose Mourinho]. He's got something because he also did it at Porto, and he didn't have the money there."

So it is played six, won six, no goals conceded. The figures are impressive but Chelsea's supremacy is one of the factors behind an apparent waning of interest, a subject Charlton's chief executive, Peter Varney, addressed in his programme notes. "There are worrying signs that all clubs must heed and act upon," he wrote. "There are fewer season-ticket holders at most clubs and attendances for some of the early matches have been disappointing."

The lack of 3pm Saturday kick-offs was, he wrote, a factor, so was the sense that "the majority of Premiership clubs do not believe they can win the League". Increasingly it seems the arrogant assumption of Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive, that the Premiership will be decided by a "bunch of one", may be true.

"I don't think football has been given this problem before," added Curbishley. "We have always had big clubs and Chelsea can point to the fact that Alex [Ferguson] has spent £25m on [Wayne] Rooney and £30m on Rio [Ferdinand]. But Chelsea can buy Rooney and Rio whenever they want. That's the difference."

How, Curbishley was asked, did this team compare to the Arsenal one which went unbeaten two season's ago? "When an Arsenal team-sheet came in without [Thierry] Henry and [Patrick] Vieira you felt you had a chance. If Chelsea are without Makelele, [Didier] Drogba or [John] Terry someone else can go in, another top international. It's not healthy anyone being so dominant and it's up to the other big teams to respond."

Goals: Crespo (55) 0-1; Robben (60) 0-2.

Charlton Athletic (4-5-1): Andersen; Young, Perry, Hreidarsson, Powell (Spector, 70); Rommedahl, Hughes, Kishishev (Holland, 67), Murphy, Thomas (Ambrose, 67); Bent. Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), Bartlett.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Terry, Gallas; Essien, Makelele, Lampard; Duff (Wright-Phillips, 63), Crespo (Drogba, 67), Robben (J Cole, 79). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Géremi.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Chelsea Ricardo Carvalho, Gallas.

Man of the match: Terry.

Attendance: 27,111.

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