Essien provides drive for rampant Chelsea

Chelsea 4 Wolverhamption Wanderers 0: Ghanaian midfielder scores twice to make light of absentees as Wolves are consigned to role of relegation scrappers
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The Independent Online

There was a player named Henry on the pitch but Wolverhampton Wanderers would have needed 11 of them and maybe even a few more if they were ever going to extract anything from this game. Unfortunately the visitors' Henry – Karl – was peripheral, which applied to Mick McCarthy's men as a whole. Chelsea were rampant in what was their 12th consecutive home win in all competitions.

Wolves rarely had the chance to do anything as devious as Thierry Henry did for France in midweek, but if they had been inclined to cheat anywhere on the pitch, then stopping Michael Essien should have been top of their priorities. The Ghana midfielder scored twice in 10 minutes, after Florent Malouda had broken the deadlock and sent Chelsea on the way to their 1,000th League win at Stamford Bridge.

Combined with a defence that has not conceded a League goal at home since the first day of the season, they took another step towards a third title in six years.

Asked to comment on Essien, coach Carlo Ancelotti said: "Essien is one of the most important players in midfield in the world. He can play in the right and the centre with the same result. This season he maintains a good condition and is very strong with a lot of quality."

Chelsea were, in theory, a diminished force, after the international matches had ruled out Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho. Yet Wolves never found any gaps.

Even if David Edwards had scored from Andrew Jarvis's cross after four minutes, rather than failing to make contact in front of the open net, that would have been nothing more than a minor irritation to Ancelotti's side.

One of those to profit from Chelsea's list of absentees was Malouda, present in Paris against Ireland when Thierry Henry intervened and therefore another Frenchman with a World Cup to look forward to.

Edwards's miss jolted Chelsea out of any complacency. A Wolves header fell to Malouda inside the centre circle and the winger moved forward 20 yards and, with no one inclined to close him down, he found the top corner of Wayne Hennessey's net from a similar distance. It was a fine strike but Wolves had time to challenge him.

Essien's first goal involved less effort than Malouda's strike but showed Wolves's defence up once more. From a corner taken by Malouda, Essien moved easily free of his marker to head home from eight yards. McCarthy criticised his players for the first two goals and said: "At 2-0 it was a done deal. We're in a relegation battle now."

Chelsea's next goal saw the visitors again undone from distance. Salomon Kalou slipped his pass to Essien and the Wolves centre-backs were more like rabbits in the headlights, freezing as the former Lyon player struck his shot from 20 yards under the goalkeeper. Hennessey denied him a hat-trick in the second half.

Wolves did see Sylvan Ebanks-Blake force a good save from Petr Cech before the interval but were against a Chelsea side who were as fluent here as they had been dogged in beating Manchester United a fortnight ago.

The last two games between these sides, five years ago, provided 10 goals for the London club and Chelsea are on the way to a possible repeat this season. The fourth strike was their best team move, as Nicolas Anelka glided down the left and passed to Kalou, who laid the ball back for Joe Cole. The England international sidefooted his first goal for 13 months, although Hennessey should have kept it out after getting a hand on the shot.

Chelsea gained more encouragement as Gaël Kakuta, the player around whom the club's recently-lifted transfer ban revolved, made a sprightly debut in attack. Ancelotti praised his contribution and claimed Chelsea would not dip into the transfer market in January.

They will lose four players to the African Nations Cup in the new year. Their title rivals, fast disappearing in the rear-view mirror, can only hope Ancelotti is true to his word. It is their only hope.

Attendance: 41,786

Referee: Lee Mason

Man of the match: Essien

Match rating: 6/10

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