It was as if the World Cup had never happened as Chelsea's star names came to the fore, having flopped for their countries on the biggest stage. Didier Drogba was a marginal figure for Ivory Coast, but here he was playing again with conviction and passion, scoring a hat-trick that provided remarkable symmetry with the end of last season, when he scored three goals in Chelsea's 8-0 demolition of Wigan that clinched the Premier League title on the final day.
Frank Lampard was also on the scoresheet for Chelsea with his 158th goal for the club, as if his ineffective displays for England in South Africa were just a bad dream.
John Terry was back to his assured best, although it must be said he barely had to break into a sweat to keep West Bromwich Albion at bay. And Florent Malouda's double helped him banish memories of France's farcical World Cup campaign. Nicolas Anelka, John Obi Mikel, Ashley Cole – across the pitch there were Chelsea players who had all experienced World Cups to forget.
Yet put them in a Chelsea shirt and they are different animals. As the fifth goal flew in, the Chelsea fans inside Stamford Bridge sang, "Top of the League, we're having a laugh", as the champions moved above Blackpool whose unlikely leadership of the division had lasted only a couple of hours.
The players are reportedly unhappy that Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, has altered their bonus payments this season, scrapping the incentives for individual games but retaining payouts for every trophy they win. The chairman, Bruce Buck, appeared to confirm the change, saying: "It's a confidential matter but the new rules from Uefa require a club to balance its books. Every club has to adjust."
There was no sign on the pitch, however, that austerity is breeding discontent, as Chelsea took to the return of the Premier League with a relish that was far too much for the recently promoted West Bromwich.
The Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, played down the scoreline, saying: "They did their job, nothing special. This team can play and score a lot of goals, this is our job."
The performance went some way to answer questions that had been raised during pre-season. Chelsea have lost five senior players since winning the Double in May – Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Juliano Belletti – and a dismal run of four defeats in a row in pre-season, including last weekend's 3-1 loss to Manchester United at Wembley, had created a subdued atmosphere in the build-up to their title defence.
Any suggestions, though, that Ancelotti's side were off the pace were dispelled within six minutes. Malouda was fouled by Pablo Ibanez just outside the penalty area. Drogba's 29 League goals last season clearly earned him the right to have the first pop at goal and although his effort was fairly tame it was too much for West Bromwich's goalkeeper, Scott Carson, who fumbled the wet ball allowing Mikel to poke it to the waiting Malouda, who fired through the legs of Graham Dorrans.
A brief flurry from West Bromwich created a couple of chances. Dorrans' low, skidding shot caught a deflection off Terry and Petr Cech, who returned to the Chelsea line-up after a month out with a calf injury, saved down low. Roman Bednar thought he had beaten the offside trap and fired into Cech's goal, only for the effort to be rightly ruled out for offside.
Chelsea reasserted their authority just before half-time, when Drogba's free-kick found a gaping hole in the wall. Terry set up Chelsea's third, with a purposeful header from a Malouda corner that Youssouf Mulumbu cleared off the line, only for Drogba to pounce with typical tenacity.
There was a sense of the inevitable about Chelsea's fourth as Anelka passed to Cole who squared for Lampard to finish. The England midfielder was immediately withdrawn but the punishment did not cease for Albion, with Drogba completing another hat-trick with a shot that took a huge deflection off Gabriel Tamas. Malouda added his second, and Chelsea's sixth, in the final minute, pouncing on Anelka's through-ball to score off the inside of the post.
This was no way to welcome back the West Bromwich manager, Roberto Di Matteo, a Chelsea legend thanks to two FA Cup final-winning goals. Di Matteo, who was cheered by home fans, said: "It was great to see that they had not forgotten me, but I would have preferred to have got something for my team."
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Drogba
Match rating: 8/10
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