In the last seven days Paul Clement has been taking the occasional first team training session as Chelsea replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari with Guus Hiddink. In returning to Reserve duty, his boys destroyed Portsmouth in a 6-0 victory in front of the new Dutch leader and club owner Roman Abramovich.
In perhaps a decision backed by Hiddink after the first team’s change of fortune when using the formation at Watford on Saturday, they fielded an unfamiliar 4-4-2 shape. New signing Ricardo Quaresma started in order to gain match practice, with the emerging first team threat Miroslav Stoch on the other wing. Mineiro held in midfield alongside Michael Woods, whilst the attack was spearheaded by Fabio Borini and Franco Di Santo. Guy Whittingham’s Portsmouth fielded just as experienced a team, including Linvoy Primus, Younes Kaboul and Pele, but with a smattering of youth including dynamic young French duo Gael N’Lundulu and Gaulthier Mahoto.
It was the visitors who had the first chance inside the first three minutes. N’Lundulu, who is rather similar in style to one Gael Kakuta, turned and twisted to get a cross away from Patrick van Aanholt, and found the unmarked head of Paris Cowan-Hall. The diminutive front-man with a good scoring record against the Blues, however, fluffed his header wide. From that moment on, it was to be a long night for Portsmouth. Chelsea took control and chances fell to Borini and Stoch inside the next ten minutes, neither really worrying Asmir Begovic.
As the clock hit the 20th minute, Clement was forced into a substitution. Michael Woods was involved in a jarring tackle which caused an injury to his knee, and his subsequent withdrawal. Jacob Mellis was his replacement, and minutes later the lead was to be had. Some intricate midfield passing saw Di Santo in on goal, and he kept his composure to square across Begovic to gift Quaresma – who had started the move – his first goal in a blue shirt. It was so very nearly a two-goal lead sixty seconds later, as Portsmouth got their offside trap wrong, and allowed Stoch to bear down on goal from the right wing. Torn between shooting and crossing, he did quite neither, and the ball rolled wide of the far post, much to Mellis’ chagrin.
Marc Wilson’s wide long-range daisy-cutter ensured Rhys Taylor was at least awake, but it was all Chelsea. Quaresma, Di Santo and Mellis all went close to extending the lead in making Begovic work, and in due course the lead would be deservedly extended. With many of the crowd departing for their half time refreshment, a fabulous pass from Quaresma down the right wing unleashed the overlapping Tom Taiwo. With time and space to compose himself, he waited for the right move in the box for the ball. Di Santo provided, and was rewarded with a tap-in from three yards out. Two goals ahead, and breathing room to work with.
Not that it was needed. The second half was more emphatically Chelsea’s than the first. Quaresma and Stoch were switching wings, with most success to be had against right-back Lauren instead of the lesser experienced James Hurst, who dealt well with both. Mineiro’s composure in midfield allowed the hosts to stream forward at will, and chances continued to come. Di Santo, with a seemingly endless supply of oxygen, ran all game, won headers, closed down, and made life hell for Kaboul and Primus. It was nearly 3-0 when Stoch danced inside ten minutes into the second half and ripped a shot away which Begovic did well to palm onto the crossbar.
It took until twenty minutes were remaining on the clock for the third to come, and when it did, it was much similar to the opening goal. Portsmouth’s defensive line was rather suspect, and four blue shirts beared down on Begovic. Di Santo took hold of the situation and once more unselfishly squared to an onrushing team-mate. Mellis was the colleague to gleefully accept the invitation, and put the game to bed. They weren’t done though. They continued to fly forwards, with van Aanholt having one or two chances to work Begovic, but the fourth goal did arrive with ten minutes remaining. Stoch made Lauren look silly again, and although his shot was again saved, Di Santo was alert to smash the ball home. With two goals and two assists, he had been involved in every goal and was by some margin a brilliant man of the match.
He was brought off for a well-earned breather, as was Borini, replaced by Frank Nouble and Fabio Ferreira. The two subtitutes were keen to impress, and they were the two to combine to make it 5-0 shortly after Di Santo’s second. Ferreira was again onside with one black shirt causing an entire gameplan to fall apart, and he, like Taiwo earlier, was able to pick his pass. Nouble opened his body and squared the shot into the top corner to continue a fabulous season of scoring. N’Lundulu, who shortly earlier had forced Taylor into his only notable save of the night with a rasping effort, was then booked for a quite cynical foul on a marauding van Aanholt, before the night was capped by the man who started it.
Ricardo Quaresma had essentially been crusing through the game. He found trouble in James Hurst’s solid defending but his movement and experience was showing in his class. In putting in a full shift at an unfamiliar level he earned his second of the night and Chelsea’s sixth, picking up a woeful pass from Hurst and waltzing into the open space ahead before driving low past Begovic. That, mercifully, was the end of the scoring, and Chelsea’s biggest win at this level for many, many years – perhaps reward for a number of loyal supporters who have experienced some low-scoring affairs over the last few seasons.
The turnaround in goalscoring form may well be attributable to the dynamic, attacking and affable Clement. In stepping up from the Under 18s, where he had a successful spell, he is still working with many players he’s had from Under 16 level upwards, and in knowing their games inside out he’s quite clearly able to get the best from them. Everyone had a strong game, with exceptional outings from captain Bridcutt, Mineiro, Mellis, and Quaresma. Most adulation on the night, however, must go to the brilliant Di Santo, who showed everything he has, and in front of his new manager, could not have found a better time to say he’s ready to take the next step.
Team: Taylor, Taiwo, Ofori-Twumasi, Bridcutt (c), van Aanholt, Mineiro, Woods (Mellis 20), Stoch, Quaresma, Borini (Ferreira 83), Di Santo (Nouble 85)
Goals: Quaresma 23, 90, Di Santo 45, 84, Mellis 72, Nouble 88