Robben shows United what they let slip

Chelsea 1 - Everton 0
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The Independent Football

One to ponder for Ryan Giggs. Would he rather watch Manchester United lead the Premiership from the substitutes' bench, or see Chelsea do so from United's left wing? The thought came to mind as Arjen Robben bewitched, bothered and ultimately beat an Everton team that had shown at Stamford Bridge on Saturday that their exalted position is no fluke.

One to ponder for Ryan Giggs. Would he rather watch Manchester United lead the Premiership from the substitutes' bench, or see Chelsea do so from United's left wing? The thought came to mind as Arjen Robben bewitched, bothered and ultimately beat an Everton team that had shown at Stamford Bridge on Saturday that their exalted position is no fluke.

Robben was due to sign for United, going so far as being photographed at their Carrington training ground, when Chelsea turned his head. Having both sparkled and disappointed in Euro 2004, the young Dutchman remained an enigma to Chelsea fans when his entrance was delayed by an ankle injury. Now he is fit, and flying.

Promising first impressions created as a substitute in the Premiership, and in Moscow in midweek, were confirmed in his full League debut. He is quick, he commits and beats people, he has a powerful shot and an eye for a pass. Tony Hibbert played well against him but could not prevent Robben being the game's dominant figure.

Robben, it is increasingly agreed, could be the player who finally turns Chelsea from contenders into champions. What is also clear is that had Robben gone to Old Trafford, and given United a similar cutting edge, it would probably have been at the expense of Giggs, whose initial omission from yesterday's derby underlined his vulnerability. Jose Mourinho has moved Damien Duff to the right flank to accommodate Robben but United have Cristiano Ronaldo. Giggs can play off the main striker, but Wayne Rooney has that role nailed down.

While Robben's change of mind may have saved Giggs, it has done nothing for the prospects of Joe Cole, who was Chelsea's only unused outfield substitute. Mourinho's preferred XI is taking shape and there is no place for over-indulgent trickery. The frightening aspect for opponents is that Mourinho's first-choice attack is still to be unveiled - Eidur Gudjohnsen is standing in for Didier Drogba.

Such resources Everton can only dream of, but they made a good fist of denying Chelsea. In the opening half they were more adventurous than most visitors to the Bridge and Tim Cahill should have put them ahead from Kevin Kilbane's cross. Their work-rate was prodigious, their organisation impressive, and their confidence evident from the rejuvenated form of players such as Kilbane, Marcus Bent and Alessandro Pistone. In Thomas Gravesen they have one of the few midfield players to match Frank Lampard in the past two seasons.

Chelsea's superior passing gradually pushed Everton back, but with Nigel Martyn athletically denying Robben, and Hibbert blocking a Gudjohnsen shot on the line, the game could have tilted irrevocably Everton's way had Alan Stubbs not missed a 57th-minute free header.

Mourinho's response was bold. Mateja Kezman came on to lead the line, Gudjohnsen dropping into the hole. Significantly, Everton failed to pick the Icelander up and it was he, after Kezman had nodded down Ricardo Carvalho's clearance, who released Robben with a sublime first-time ball. David Weir tried to tug him down but Robben finished with aplomb. With Arsenal drawing, Chelsea, for the first time in 2004, went to bed as Premiership leaders.

"It's been a great start for me and I'm very happy at that but more so because we have taken another three points," said Robben. "We were really pleased in the dressing room because it was a difficult game. It was like a war on the pitch and you are even more happy to win after such a battle."

Mourinho was pleased by his team's delight, adding: "If you are to be champions you have to treat every game as a final. The players now understand victories come out of our hearts, legs and brains." David Moyes was more prosaic. "In Robben and Duff they have players who can eliminate people out of the game," he said. "That creates a domino effect and they can pick you off."

A high level of concentration was required to counter that, added Cahill. "They play a lot of passes sideways waiting for the opening," he said. "We had it sorted but we were opened up by a lapse in concentration and great skill and pace from Robben. He and Duff are so quick they will hurt you if you make mistakes."

Goal: Robben (72) 1-0.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Babayaro; Tiago (Kezman, 58), Makelele, Lampard; Duff (Huth, 82), Gudjohnsen (Géremi, 78), Robben. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Cole.

Everton (4-5-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Weir, Stubbs, Pistone (McFadden, 84); Osman (Chadwick, 89), Watson (Campbell, 79), Gravesen, Cahill, Kilbane; Bent. Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Yobo.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Chelsea: Robben. Everton: Kilbane, Gravesen, Bent.

Man of the match: Robben.

Attendance: 41,965.

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