Sheffield United 0 Chelsea 2: Ballack settles into the Chelsea routine

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The Independent Online

Neil Warnock did not get the chance to have a glass of wine with Jose Mourinho. At just after 3pm it was too early in the afternoon for alcohol for the Chelsea manager and, more pertinently, he wanted his players back in London as quickly as possible. It summed up the afternoon.

For one club it was an occasion and even before the kick-off Sheffield United were in a party mood. "It's a day we've been waiting for," the man on the public address system roared. "A team of world-class players take on," he paused for effect, "Chelsea". The joke would have bounced off the wall of concentration in the visiting dressing-room.

There, it was a routine day in the office. Get the job done and move on, just as Mourinho did afterwards. He had negotiated a potentially troublesome task at Bramall Lane and was thinking ahead to the next problem: the different conundrum of meeting Barcelona in the Champions' League. The wine could wait, it was business and coffee for the "Special One".

Indeed, when Warnock (pictured, right), the United manager, was talking about Frank Lampard afterwards he could have been talking about the whole Chelsea team. "I didn't see any defence-splitting passes," he said, "but he worked hard and did a good job for his team."

Warming to his theme, Warnock looked forward to tomorrow night's game in the Nou Camp. "They are not champions for nothing," he said. "They adapt. Whether it is Bury in the League Cup or Barcelona in the Champions' League, players are good enough to change the way they play."

The way the champions dealt with the Blades was a textbook lesson in muzzling underdogs. Chelsea rode out United's early enthusiasm, picked them off with goals from Lampard and the imperious Michael Ballack either side of the interval and then coasted in the closing stages as the home players tired of chasing a lost cause. Without Barcelona on their minds, you suspect Mourinho's team could have doubled their tally.

Lampard scored with a 30-yard free-kick and had the ball in the net a second time only to have the effort ruled offside, while Ballack, quickly coming to terms with the Premiership's different pace, flashed a vicious volley just over. Not so long ago a theory was gaining momentum that those two could not play in the same team. Just ask Sheffield United if that remains the case.

The only chance of the Blades causing an upset came and went when Hilario saved Danny Webber's unconvincing 18th-minute penalty. After that the principal problem for Mourinho was a growing injury list. Didier Drogba hurt his foot and Andrei Shevchenko missed the match with a strained muscle, leaving the Chelsea manager with the rare problem of reduced resources. Salomon Kalou, strong and pacy but raw, is likely to play tomorrow night.

As for Sheffield United, it was the familiar problem of finding pluses in a defeat. And a penalty-taker after three misses this season. "I know who is taking the next one," Warnock said, "but I'm not saying just in case he's not playing. I want him to hit it hard. I don't care if it goes in Row Z, I'll take the responsibility."

Warnock, meanwhile, intends to take no further action against Claude Davis and Ade Akinbiyi, who were involved in an alleged fight at the training ground in midweek. "I thought the newspaper reports made a meal of it to make headlines," he said. "There will be no fines, nothing at all. Both lads are fine with the situation and have shaken hands on the matter.

"We showed against Chelsea that there is nothing wrong with the spirit in the dressing-room," he added. "You get incidents in a season - I've seen head-butting and everything - it comes of 10 months of virtually living together. It's like a marriage, ups and downs are inevitable."

The weekend's results mean the main down in United minds is relegation. "We need to put pressure on opponents," Warnock said before reflecting on several moments in recent weeks when opportunities have been squandered or fate has been unkind. "Maybe we're a bit naïve in certain situations."

The whine had been uncorked after all.

Goals: Lampard (43) 0-1; Ballack (49) 0-2.

Sheffield United (4-4-1-1): Kenny; Bromby (Kozluk, 65), Davis, Jagielka, Armstrong; Gillespie (Kabba, 68), Leigertwood, Quinn, Webber; Tonge (Montgomery, 7); Hulse. Substitutes not used: Morgan, Nade.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Bridge; Essien, Ballack, Lampard; Robben (Makelele, 82), Drogba (Kalou, h-t), J Cole (Wright-Phillips, 67). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Boulahrouz.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Sheffield United Leigertwood, Montgomery.

Man of the match: Ballack.

Attendance: 32,321.

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