RECORD BREAKING OPENING DAY
The two Blues played out a scintillating season opener at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea defeating promoted side Birmingham City 3-2. Goals came courtesy of new signings Florent Malouda and Claudio Pizarro, with the winner from powerhouse midfielder Michael Essien.
It was the brand of free flowing football that Mourinho had promised, and the perfect way to bring up the record of 64 consecutive home matches without defeat. For Mourinho, he has gone 99 consecutive home matches without defeat, also including his time at FC Porto.
The Portuguese tactician opted to use the 4-4-2 formation; however this differed from last season’s version as two wingers were deployed, plus two centre forwards. Čech started between the posts; Johnson was at right back and Cole at left back, with the alternatives of Bridge and Ferreira out through injury. With skipper Terry also out, Ben-Haim started alongside Carvalho. Lampard and Essien ran the centre of the midfield, debutant goal scorer Malouda played wide left with Wright-Phillips wide right, whilst up front both Pizarro and Kalou were fit to start; Didier Drogba was a substitute.
It was the Frenchman Malouda who had the first opportunity of the game, blasting over the crossbar after great work from Wright-Phillips on the right and Kalou on the left. Chelsea started with flair, the next opportunity presenting itself to Shaun Wright-Phillips. The would be England winger shot powerfully wide after a deft touch from Pizarro sent him towards the opposition goal. Birmingham were in danger of being swept away by the blue tide.
However, against the run of play, Steve Bruce’s side took the lead. McSheffrey’s left footed free kick was bent towards goal and Chelsea old boy and crowd favourite Mikael Forssell’s glancing header beat Petr Čech to give Birmingham a shock lead. The Finnish forwards lack of celebration only served to endear him to the crowd further.
Chelsea equalised all of two minutes later, through Peruvian forward Pizarro, signed from Bayern Munich in the summer. Wright-Phillips, who was buzzing throughout the match, found space on the right hand side after exchanging passes with Malouda, before cutting the ball back to Pizarro who tucked the ball away with confidence. Birmingham ‘keeper Colin Doyle got a strong two hands to the shot, but failed to keep it out.
Chelsea continued to turn on the style and the second goal was an exhibition in “sexy football.” Malouda picked the ball up in the left back position and cut inside, before passing forwards to Lampard. His flick found Kalou who then turned and dinked the ball through for the onrushing Malouda who had continued his run after the earlier pass. The Frenchman confidently finished past Doyle to give Chelsea a 2-1 lead. It was gorgeous football from the Premier League’s runners up.
Frank Lampard nearly made it 3-1 after more great work from Pizarro and Kalou saw the Ivorian through on goal. His cutback found Lampard whose placed shot was blocked on the line by Birmingham defender Johan Djourou.
Ten minutes before halftime, Birmingham equalised. Olivier Kapo made a fool of Glen Johnson at right back, before firing an unstoppable shot past Čech. This was turning into one of the most entertaining matches of the opening weekend, with two magnificent goals.
Wright-Phillips found only the side netting after more good work by Pizarro early in the second half, yet it wasn’t long before Chelsea took the lead. A neat ball by Cole found Malouda, whose turn left the defender for dead. His cross evaded Lampard, but was only half cleared. Wright-Phillips cut it back for Essien whose powerful drive from 25 yards flew past Colin Doyle, who again couldn’t get a strong enough hand to the shot to keep it out.
The wonderful show continued, with Essien lashing just over the crossbar moments later. Ridgewell had Birmingham’s best chance with a mistimed header from a corner. Mikel and Drogba had entered the field of play as subsitututes, and the Ivorian almost scored a screamer from 50 yards. Colin Doyle came off his line to clear, straight to Drogba, five yards inside his own half. He flicked the ball over the City player and with the keeper still of his line, lashed a volley a yard or two wide. It would have been a truly special goal.
Steve Sidwell was Chelsea’s final sub, and he went within inches of scoring on his Chelsea league debut, his shot grazing the far post.
The full time whistle drew this highly entertaining encounter to a close, Mourinho commenting afterwards that he was pleased with the high tempo football on display and the new unbeaten home record. The prospect of more “sexy football” and the return of key players from injury leaves the fans highly optimistic for the new season, as our quest to win back the title begins in earnest.