Can Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba play together and if they can't will the latter spend the majority of the season among the substitutes, protected by the dugout from the hate mob, but exposed to the missiles of his own insecurities?
These were the questions inevitably being asked when The Hawthorns became a mere practice ground by 4pm on Saturday and when Anelka was lauded as Chelsea's "saviour". Meanwhile, the only thing Drogba will go on saving will be his studs when an expected three-match ban is delivered by the Football Association for throwing that coin back into the section of the Burnley support last week.
By the time the Ivorian is back, goodness knows how many goals the Frenchman will have racked up. Anelka has 12 Premier League goals already, with eight in the last four games. Little wonder his captain is prepared to hail him as the latter-day saint of Fulham Road. "Anelka has been on fire and some of his link-up play, as well as his goals, has been brilliant," said John Terry, after the three points which kept them top. "He has been, and is, the saviour for us at the moment with Didier having been out and only just coming back after injury. He is in the best form of his career."
That surely cannot be denied as Anelka has not before enjoyed as consistent a run of success such as this in all the clubs that have made him, in total transfers, the most expensive player in the world. Two shots, two goals here as West Brom were brutally knocked out by three strikes in the 11 minutes before half-time. The ability has never been denied, almost everything else has been, and when Chelsea paid £12m last year and when the initial return did not nearly correspond to the outlay, the queries were duly raised. Not by Terry, however.
"When we signed him I said, 'Thank God you are here', because I used to hate playing against him," he said. "He was always a problem, always playing on my shoulder, and a great finisher as well. He relishes playing down the middle. He relishes the likes of Flo [Malouda] and Joe [Cole] and Salomon Kalou on either side of him. It gives him the chance to play in between the two centre-halves and on the shoulders of them because the two opposition full-backs are getting stretched all the time by the wide men."
And therein lies Drogba's main problem or what could well turn into it if the Anelka purple patch goes on. While Luiz Felipe Scolari initially insisted the pair could start in the same XI – "when they have time to play together in training and when they are both in good condition" – he later said that one of the factors in Anelka's sudden improvement was that "the system we are playing suits him". Will the Brazilian be willing to change a winning formula just to accommodate Drogba?
The response to that is probably a big fat "no", but the jury remains out on whether the 4-3-3 formation, that is so clearly too much for the lesser teams, will be nearly as effective against the big teams. While their staggering winning away record in the Premier League rolls on – with this seventh straight success of the season they equalled Tottenham's 48-year-old mark of 10 on the bounce in the top-flight – at home they have conceded six points this term. That must be put down to Chelsea having played Liverpool and Manchester United at the Bridge and not yet having travelled to either of those two, or indeed, to Arsenal. Drogba may well be seeking some comfort in that stat in the next few weeks.
Goals: Bosingwa 34 (0-1); Anelka 38 (0-2), Anelka 45 (0-3).
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Carson; Zuiverloon, Meite (Donk 68), Olsson, Robinson; Morrison (Filipe Teixeira 58), Koren, Greening, Borja Valero; Miller, Bednar (Kim 46). Substitutes not used: Kiely, Cech (gk), Brunt, Moore.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cudicini; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry (Ferreira 85), Bridge; Deco, Mikel, Lampard; Kalou (Ballack 68), Anelka (Drogba 74), Malouda. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ashley Cole, Sinclair, Mineiro.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Chelsea Terry, Bosingwa, Ivanovic.
Man of the match: Anelka.
Attendance: 26,322.Reuse content