Robben's merry men tuck in

Chelsea 3 - Portsmouth 0
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The Independent Online

"It's all yours", declared one of yesterday morning's headlines as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger obligingly yielded Chelsea the title. Actually, they didn't quite; at least, not in so many words. But Jose Mourinho will not be seduced by his closest pursuers' apparent generosity, anyway. Not even after this mis-match which yielded a further advantage over Arsenal, who play today, and maintained the lead over Manchester United.

"It's all yours", declared one of yesterday morning's headlines as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger obligingly yielded Chelsea the title. Actually, they didn't quite; at least, not in so many words. But Jose Mourinho will not be seduced by his closest pursuers' apparent generosity, anyway. Not even after this mis-match which yielded a further advantage over Arsenal, who play today, and maintained the lead over Manchester United.

These may be heady times here, but Mourinho's message to Chelsea followers in his programme notes was "stay cool". He reinforced the point by repeating it seven times throughout the item.

Mourinho spent most of the afternoon reclined in the dug-out, enjoying a master class in disciplined defending - this was a record eighth Premiership game without conceding a goal - perceptive prompting from midfield and the incisive deliverance of pace into the heart of the visitors' defence through the willing running of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff.

By the end, Pompey's rearguard had the look of men seeking medical help after suffering severe internal bleeding. The Dutchman was in imperious mood. Talk about Robben the poor to give to the rich.

"Arjen's quick with the ball at his feet, on either flank, and that's a gift," acknowledged Chelsea's assistant manager, Steve Clarke, of the Dutchman. "He's only young and has a lot of learning to do - but if he plays like that every week, we'll be happy."

After 20 minutes it was effectively over. By then, Chelsea had established a two-goal advantage through Didier Drogba, who overtook Eidur Gudjohnsen to become the club's leading scorer with 11 goals, and the remarkable Robben. Drogba's second from a splendid free-kick before the interval was simply confirmation that the points were Chelsea's.

"It's hard to see a danger at the moment," reflected Clarke, standing in for Mourinho. "But we won't be complacent. We'll be looking for the 11 victories we need [to confirm the championship]."

What chance did Portsmouth, beset by indifferent form and yet to score against Chelsea in the Premiership, have? Frankly, not a lot. As their coach, Joe Jordan, conceded: "Unless you get it right and everyone's tuned in and doing their job you'll get punished."

The fact that last Saturday's two red card recipients, Amdy Faye and Lomana LuaLua, were enforced absentees, and their able midfielder Nigel Quashie had moved to Saints in midweek, scarcely aided their cause. Also missing were the goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who was replaced by Jamie Ashdown, and the captain, Arjan De Zeeuw, who felt ill before the game and was relegated to substitute.

Before the game Mourinho, never one to diminish his own standing, had spoken of his great soloists, and himself as the conductor of the orchestra. More pertinently, he had emphasised the crucial role accepted by the virtually ever-present Lampard, intriguingly voted, by a landslide, as England's Player of the Year for 2004 in an FA poll, describing him as the "complete midfielder, who can play at the same level for 90 minutes".

That didn't quite tally with the player dispossessed by Aiyegbeni Yakubu close to his own area in the early minutes, an error from which, to Lampard's relief, Portsmouth failed to profit.

Soon, however, we were to witness the more accomplished side of the England man, whose contribution to Chelsea's second was a delightful ball through, dissecting the visitors' rearguard, allowing Robben to round Ashdown and score from an acute angle.

By then, class had already told, emphatically so, as the Blues reflected their early dominance with the opening goal. On that occasion, it had been Robben who fashioned it, the Dutchman outwitting Gary O'Neil on the right flank before sliding the ball across for Drogba who had stolen in to convert the chance.

Strangely enough, it was Lampard again who was culpable when his underhit back-pass to John Terry was intercepted by Yakubu who dashed clear but from an inviting position contrived to steer the chance wide of the far post. The Nigerian looked suitably embarrassed. He also bore the look of a man who is only biding his time on the South Coast.

For Chelsea, it was but a temporary halt to the flow forward. Seven minutes before the interval Drogba curled the ball round the wall from a free-kick for his second, Chelsea's third. For Pompey there was no way back.

The second period was comfortable for Mourinho's team as a favourite old armchair. The only danger was his players dozing off. O'Neil gave them a reminder that the task was not yet complete when his wickedly struck free-kick was thrust over his bar by goalkeeper Petr Cech.

This assembly of Chelsea players wouldn't make such premature assumptions about their right to the points, though. Robben and Damien Duff continued to interpass and chase with a verve of men whose team was actually a goal down. One such movement almost set up a busy Joe Cole, who was relishing a relatively rare start.

Substitute Mateja Kezman was just wide from an acute angle, while Lampard was denied by Ashdown as Chelsea strove vainly for a fourth. But what did they care? Already 10 points clear of second-placed Arsenal, who play today, the Blues ended the day 13 points in advance of the Gunners and still 11 points ahead of Manchester United. Ferguson and Wenger may only grudgingly admit it, but surely all bets are now off.

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