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Malouda late show rescues labouring Chelsea


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1227774812.jpgChelsea 2-1 West Brom

Lethargic Blues rescued by French duo late show

Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda netted as Chelsea came from a goal down to beat Roy Hodgson's resolute West Brom side at Stamford Bridge to truly ignite the Blues' campaign under new boss Andre Villas-Boas.

The former Porto manager had cut a frustrated figure on the touchline for much of last weekend's trip to Stoke, and anxiety once again will have preyed on the mind of the Portuguese tactician as his side once more laboured to a result against West Midlands opposition. Chelsea were deserving of the result based on chances alone, but West Brom will feel hard done by after again coming unstuck thanks to a late goal from title hopefuls after a manful rearguard showing.

Last weekend at the Hawthorns, Manchester United's Ashley Young saw his deflected effort nestle in the bottom corner, and it was enigmatic winger Florent Malouda who supplied the killer blow to Albion's hopes with a well-taken half volley from six yards. Jose Bosingwa had done brilliantly to gallop between two Baggies defenders before teasing a low cross towards the back post where Malouda finished with aplomb, but that was to be one of a precious few moments of genuine brilliance from the hosts.

Chelsea toiled and were denied time and time again by Hodgson's side. Whereas previous Blues sides would launch wave after wave of fierce attacks in a siege-like manner on their opponents at Stamford Bridge, this lacklustre performance - again sourced through the lack of a genuine playmaker - saw the home side try to force the issue only after the half-time interval. Play was largely one-dimensional and the starting eleven lacked balance; something addressed before half-time by Villas-Boas, yet the Blues had found themselves trailing before then thanks to Shane Long's well-taken opener.

Long, an Irish international who almost single-handedly led Reading to last campaign's Championship play-off final at Wembley, netted on his debut against the champions last weekend, and he further increased his rising reputation with a goal at the home of one of English football's meanest defences.

However, that title seemed well wide of the mark considering the fashion of the Blues' first concession of the season. An inauspicious pass from Ramires caught compatriot Alex off-guard, and the Brazilian defender was bullied off the ball by Long, who stroked the ball beyond Henrique Hilario from close range. The Portuguese custodian, standing in for the injured Petr Cech, might have done better with the chance, but credit must to given to Long for maintaining his composure as he bore down on goal.

By that stage - just four minutes in - Hilario had already been involved with the play as he headed clear the danger when Paul Scharner had lofted a high ball into the penalty area, and the Chelsea stopper had to be on his toes to deny the same player as he drove goalwards from the angle. Standing tall, Hilario beat the ball away with a firm pair of wrists, but that was not to be the last time an uncharacteristically limp defensive line would be sliced open.

Token efforts from Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka were the best Chelsea could offer in response, whereas the Baggies really ought to have made it 2-0 when Somen Tchoyi and Long burst clean through with just Hilario to beat, only for the ex-Reading man to misplace his cross when a simple square ball would have surely extended the visitor's lead.

Chelsea supporters would have hoped that miss would duly be punished, but a disappointing attacking performance was belittling any genuine attempt at restoring parity. Though chances would soon fall the way of the title chasers, West Brom's solid defensive ploy - two banks of four - was holding firm, and very little in terms of clear goalscoring opportunities were being fashioned.

Villas-Boas was clearly unimpressed by the insipid showing of his midfield players, and he quickly addressed the issue by replacing Kalou with Florent Malouda just half an hour in. Kalou - often made the scapegoat of Chelsea failures in the past - had in fairness not enjoyed a good performance at all, and this was soon addressed by Malouda's presence in the side. The improvement was clear as balance returned to the Chelsea left, and soon both full-backs were able to supply more obvious width further up the pitch.

That tactical switch nearly paid instant dividends when Ashley Cole saw a swerving effort tipped over by Ben Foster, before the former Manchester United keeper then denied John Mikel Obi, who had diverted a low Alex free-kick towards goal. There was an element of fortune about the save as the Nigerian could only direct the ball straight at the one-time England international, but signs remained that this would need some further tactical readjustment from the Chelsea boss.

One man equally as frustrated as the new coach by this performance was Fernando Torres. Clearly in the best form of his short Chelsea career so far, Torres was the sole spark of creation in a side devoid of ideas. He would make the intelligent runs that would create openings for his team-mates to exploit, but his work was often overlooked. The Blues midfield were playing it far too safe, opting to pass sideways and backwards instead of threading through-balls into the channels for the Spanish World Cup winner, and there came a point where el Nino dropped deep to proverbially take the bull by the horns and press the issue; twice flashing shots just over the crossbar.

With Torres the single slice of ingenuity in the Chelsea side, a change in shape to a 4-1-2-1-2 formation after half-time improved matters massively. The second half saw the visitors deploy a defensive siege mentality, with only Shane Long staying up. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the Blues would have to capitalise on a slice of luck or a stroke of genius to restore parity, and Anelka demonstrated a fine combination of both to get Chelsea back on terms.

Frank Lampard looked to have been hacked down in the box but the referee played on, and Anelka rode one challenge brilliantly before sliding the ball into the far corner, courtesy of a deflection. It was a fortuitous strike, but the foundations for a potential victory had been set just seven minutes after the break. Game on!

And the former Bolton striker might have doubled his tally when he was played in by Lampard, who had earlier seen a volley deflected wide, but Ben Foster saved brilliantly at the Frenchman's feet. The ricocheting ball fell to Malouda, only for Jonas Olsson to make a wonderful block to maintain a 1-1 scoreline. The West Brom defending was becoming increasingly desperate as Chelsea's wide play continued to fashion opportunities

Didier Drogba soon entered the fray in place of Torres, whose contribution was duly applauded by the Chelsea faithful. West Brom were not yet entirely spent as an attacking force themselves, though, as the troublesome Tchoyi produced a fabulous save out of Hilario when he looked to bend the ball home from the edge of the box. At the opposite end, Drogba - immediately involved - poked a Cole cross the wrong side of the post and Anelka shot over the bar inside a crowded penalty area.

Drogba then volleyed wide after a fabulous cross from fellow substitute Branislav Ivanovic after the Serbian had ventured forward, before another penalty call was turned down despite an apparent hand-ball by Olsson. Frank Lampard volleyed over another half-chance and Foster again denied the marauding Cole with another smart stop low down. West Brom were content to keep all ten outfield players behind the ball, making it difficult for Chelsea to find time and space.

One opportunity to win the game again fell to Anelka, who shot into the side netting from about 45 yards when Foster had rushed out to clear a ball he was second-favourite for. Thankfully, the Frenchman would not have to rue the chance, however, as further wide play would bring about the winner just seven minutes from time

It was Bosingwa, the much-maligned right-back, who would be the hero. Despite being faced by two West Brom defenders, he effortlessly skipped between the two, touched the ball forward and skimmed a beautiful cross between the back four and the goalkeeper into Malouda's path - the outcome a goal for the French winger. A moment of genuine quality, the cross was inch-perfect and Malouda made no mistake with his finish.

On the balance of play and possession, Chelsea had warranted the victory and arguably deserved the lead, but West Brom, feeling that they deserved something from the game, were to have one final say - however, last season's top scorer, Peter Odemwingie, could only fire straight at Hilario when well-placed inside the box. The Portuguese hung on gratefully as Chelsea played out the game in conservative fashion; electing to keep the ball as opposed to pressing for the insurance of a third goal.

A game of fine margins - and a tale of two crosses - ultimately decided the game, as Bosingwa's perfect centre won Chelsea the points. West Brom, despite their fine performance, have nothing to show once more after further late heartache, and they will certainly rue Long's wayward pass when he and Tchoyi had sliced the Blues apart before half-time.

It was a tough match for Villas-Boas against a side that should have no issue staying up this campaign. No-one expected a whitewash yet few would have predicted such a stern test; yet it is the ilk of champions to win games late, even with sub-par performances. The lack of creativity must be addressed whilst the imminent acquisition of Juan Mata will look to improve our width - either way, there is still much work for AVB to sink his teeth in to.

If the former Porto boss was previously unaware of the mammoth task at hand, he will be now!

Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Bosingwa, Alex (Ivanovic 66), Terry ©, Cole; Ramires, Mikel, Lampard; Anelka, Torres (Drogba 59), Kalou (Malouda 34)

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Foster; Reid, Tamas, Olsson, Shorey; Brunt ©, Scharner, Mulumbu (Dorrans 86), Morrison; Tchoyi (Odemwingie 74), Long

The TalkChelsea.net MAN OF THE MATCH was West Brom’s #5: SOMEN TCHOYI

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Good review although i don't care about the performance like most others, 3 points while playing shit is suppose to be a true sign of champions.

Good to see Andre ain't scared to turning things around if need be.

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I usually don't do ratings, but I'm bored atm. Oh, and well done BlueLion ;)

Hilario - 7.5

Bosingwa - 7

Alex - 4

Terry - 5

Cole - 6

Mikel - 6.5

Lampard - 5

Ramires - 7.5

Kalou - 1

Anelka - 6.5

Torres - 5

Malouda - 5.5

Ivanovic - 6

Drogba - 3

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What would you have rated the pair? I agree a 3 is harsh. Perhaps a 4.

Drogba was disinterested however he did have a few chances and added a second dimension to our play with the more direct approach, and whilst Alex made a couple of errors, it was hardly a disastrous showing, because in fairness Tchoyi and Long are a difficult and dynamic duo and hard to mark - we can see that from Terry's shortcomings in the game too. I'd have given the both of them a 5, and Kalou a 2, because he was genuinely woeful.

I usually don't do ratings, but I'm bored atm. Oh, and well done BlueLion ;)

Nice review of a shite game...

:D Thank you :)

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Is it me or is Alex turning into a away player?

end of last season amazing at Old Trafford then dodgy the next week at home to Newcastle (despite scoring), same again amazing away to Stoke then dodgy yesterday.

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Haha, I thought you were accusing me of infidelity there for a minute :D

My dad (who never watches football) was sat beside me for the WBA game and they had Alex on the screen. He turned around and asked me if this was the same Alex from talkchelsea LMAO. Apparently he knows I spend practically a couple of hours on here on most days and that I write for the main site occasionally, so he checks out the main page from time to time and knows all about your reports and such haha.

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