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Sturridge shines as buoyant Blues bounce back to butcher woeful Wolves


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Wolves 0

A stand-out performance from Chelsea's wing wizards Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata saw the Blues cruise to three valuable points against Mick McCarthy's beleaguered Wolves side.

In what has been a damaging month for Andre Villas-Boas' side - capped off by Wednesday's horrendous capitulation in the Champions League at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen - the young Portuguese tactician will have been buoyed by a positive performance from his charges, who even in the absence of rested talisman Frank Lampard were able to dominate what looked a potential banana-skin fixture considering the side's recent indifferent run in the Premier League.

Though a third successive home league loss was never a likely outcome, even in light of the Blues' stuttering form this campaign, Villas-Boas will take great heart from the exhibition-style football his side played and the confidence they exhumed; it was a thoroughly-professional Chelsea performance throughout - having dominated the first half thanks to three clinically-executed goalscoring chances, the hosts demonstrated a defensive steel after the interval as a dumbstruck McCarthy opted to go for broke.

And whilst the side had chances to increase their already-impressive lead, the Chelsea coach will be relieved to have recorded a first win at Stamford Bridge in three attempts, as well as achieving a first league clean sheet in West London since last April's 3-0 win over now-relegated West Ham United.

Following the damaging defeat in Leverkusen, the Chelsea manager was looking for a positive response, and unfortunately for Wolves it was a case study in bewaring the injured animal as the Blues surged into an early lead; captain John Terry heading home Juan Mata's devilish corner for his fourth goal of the season in a moment that will relieve some of the personal scrutiny currently being aimed at the England skipper.

The prolific partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata then paid a rich dividend just moments later as the former increased Chelsea's lead - converting smartly from close range after a wonderful team move had seen the diminutive Spaniard surge down the left flank before teasing in a perfect low cross that Sturridge fired home with aplomb. Mata himself then extended the arrears when he rifled the ball home from close range after Didier Drogba, starting ahead of £50 million striker Fernando Torres, teed up Ashley Cole to fire in an inviting cross that Chelsea's number 10 blasted beyond an exposed Wayne Hennessey, who had previously excelled on a number of occasions to keep the half-time scoreline a relatively respectable one.

Though the goals tally would not be added to, the Blues continued to create chances in the second half and but for some excellent goalkeeping, Ramires would have added a fourth with a dipping volley, whilst Hennessey again did superbly well to deny the effervescent duo of Sturridge and Mata with a fine double-save in two stand-out moments of a far less eventful second period.

At the opposite end, Petr Cech matched his opposite number's heroics with a couple of close-range blocks to preserve the Chelsea clean sheet, but that episode aside, it was a composed and well-drilled rearguard performance from Terry and company at the back for the Blues - but it must be stated that the toothless Wolves attack offered precious little in an offensive sense, and ultimately a 3-0 scoreline flatters the visitors for a truly terrible first-half showing. Credit where it is due - the visiting side picked up the tempo in the second half and showed a little more defensive resilience themselves, but the damage had already been early on thanks to the dynamism and craft of Chelsea's on-song wing duo.

Crucially, with Manchester United only able to draw with Alan Pardew's Newcastle United side at Old Trafford, the Blues have closed the gap between themselves and Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who sit second in the table behind Manchester City. Furthermore, that result means a win at St. James' Park next weekend for Villas-Boas' charges will see them leapfrog the Magpies, who have enjoyed an unexpectedly-brilliant start to the new campaign and should be considered as genuine top four contenders.

But what matters most is the necessary was done. Damaging losses to Arsenal and Liverpool; both games that Chelsea should have gone on to win, had done well to halt much of the momentum gathered thanks to some exceptional early season performances, but two wins - and two clean sheets - either side of that hopefully anomalous Liverpool result will hopefully put paid to this latest 'bad moment,' and hopefully, the gradual recovery of Chelsea's season can take a giant stride forward with a win against the Merseysiders in Tuesday's Carling Cup quarter-final against Kenny Dalglish's men.

One must apply a level of perspective to this result and performance - as already stated, Wolves were lacklustre and desperately blunt in an attacking capacity, only troubling the recently-leaky Chelsea attack with a couple of half-chances that were ultimately either wasted or dealt with by Blues keeper Petr Cech, a virtual spectator for much of this encounter. Nevertheless, this result may well form the cornerstone of future results thanks to one crucial element - today, Chelsea did the basics well and were then able to exploit a well-deserved lead and play some exhibition football.

At times, this match felt like a training ground encounter with the ease at which Chelsea were able to express themselves, and but for some wayward finishing and some commendable goalkeeping by Wayne Hennessey, who seemed desperate to make up for a torrid showing in this fixture in the 09/10 season, when he was at fault for three of Chelsea's goals in a 4-0 rout in Carlo Ancelotti's double-winning season, this could have been an absolute hammering of a side incredibly short on self-belief.

It would not have aided McCarthy's cause that influential play-makers Steven Hunt and Jamie O'Hara were both absent with suspension, yet it is difficult to envisage either of those two players having much more of an impact on this game in the wake of Chelsea's obvious superiority. It is a refreshing sight to see the Blues exerting such dominance over teams once more, but as already stressed, the impact of this result must be measured in moderation with far tougher challenges on the immediate horizon.

But with the pressure building on Andre Villas-Boas, the young Portuguese coach could not have wished for a more comfortable afternoon as his side strolled to their fifth home league win of the campaign. The statistics still make for tough reading; this is Chelsea's worst start to a Premier League season since Roman Abramovich's arrival at the club in mid-2003, and being nine points off the pace of the league leaders at this stage is a real contrast to last season's corresponding standings, where Chelsea were four points ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table.

However, this is a different Chelsea side - perhaps not in personnel, but certainly in mentality. Nevertheless, today, it seemed as if the side were able to find the perfect balance between attack and defence, with a clean sheet and a more accomplished showing at the back the reward for a thoroughly-professional performance from the whole side. No player let the side down with individual mistakes, and in Mata and Sturridge, Chelsea have the grounds for a prosperous and lethal attacking partnership that may well be their greatest hope for silverware in the foreseeable future.

Young Oriol Romeu put in a composed performance in central midfield whilst the marauding Ramires was his typical excellent self in a more advanced role - but what was most encouraging to see was the return to form and fitness of the overplayed Ashley Cole, who demonstrated his trademark athleticism with a myriad of thrusts down the left wing, ultimately seeing his performance crowned with the assist for Juan Mata's game-clincher on the verge of half-time. Overall, it was a solid-if-not-spectacular from the boys in Blue. Although still guilty of overlaying on occasions, Chelsea were a consistent attacking threat, even despite taking the foot off the gas pedal after the half-time break. Such a philosophy is easy to understand however, for there is no sense in going into overdrive to rubber stamp a victory sealed as early as the 29th minute when Sturridge knocked in his seventh of a prolific season so far.

Ultimately, the road Chelsea are embarking along is a long one, but the Blues have taken a small step in a positive direction with this result. Villas-Boas said it would take one result for the Blues' fragile confidence to return, but caution should be adopted; lose on Tuesday and be knocked out of the Carling Cup - a competition that looks to be the side's real hope for silverware this year - and that confidence will expire in an instant.

That, however, is the nature of the beast.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic (Bosingwa 76), D Luiz, Terry ©, Cole; Ramires, Oriol, Meireles (Lampard 69); Sturridge, Drogba (Torres 76), Mata.

Wolves (4-2-3-1): Hennessey; Zubar, Johnson ©, Berra, Elokabi; Henry, Milijas (Ebanks-Blake 37); Jarvis, Edwards, Ward (Forde 74); Fletcher (Guedioura 83).

The TalkChelsea Man of the Match award goes to #10 JUAN MATA

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