Chelsea returned to winning ways at Fratton Park last night with a 5-0 demolition of Portsmouth. The Blues were gifted the lead in the 32nd minute following a fairly insipid start to the game. A nasty bobble took a Deco header over the unfortunate David James leaving Didier Drogba with the simple task of tapping into an empty net. From then on the Blues never looked back.
Carlo Ancelotti made wholesale changes to the side that drew so disappointingly at Ewood Park on Sunday afternoon. Daniel Sturridge replaced Nicolas Anelka in attack, while Deco came in for Kalou, allowing Florent Malouda to advance into the front three. Ricardo Carvalho replaced Alex while Yuri Zhirkov came in for the injured Ivanovic. Petr Cech returned in goal for the first time since 24th February.
The Blues started slowly, dominating possession yet lacking any incision in the final third. A trademark Frank Lampard pile driver brought the very best out of David James, before Drogba volleyed over from close range. Pompey tried hard, but, save for a couple of decent Jamie O’Hara crosses, couldn’t get anywhere near Cech’s goal. The game’s turning point arrived a quarter of an hour before the interval. First, O’Hara was clearly fouled by Zhirkov wide on the Pompey right. Lee Mason didn’t see it this way and waved play on, Deco eventually heading a ball forward attempting to release Drogba. The bouncing ball was completely missed by James and trundled towards the empty net. Drogba looked almost embarrassed to score. It just about summed up Pompey’s luck in recent times.
Soon after Alex replaced the injured Carvalho, withdrawn with an ankle injury. Chelsea were arguably fortunate to finish the half with eleven men after a stray Malouda elbow on the stretchered-off Rocha was only punished with a yellow card.
Malouda seized this reprieve and proceeded to punish Portsmouth even further for the remaining 45 minutes. First, he tormented Pompey’s defense with a mercurial run before smashing the ball past James from a tight angle to double the Blues’ advantage. Ten minutes later he notched another after a Lampard shot was inadequately cleared by James.
Chelsea’s prosperous second period coincided with the introduction of Joe Cole early in the second half. He replaced the ineffectual Sturridge and nearly made an instant impact, drawing a smart save out of James. Chelsea’s fourth goal, in the 76th minute, was made in West Africa. A raking 50-yard pass from the excellent Mikel was chested down by Drogba who shrugged off Finnan before lashing home inside the near-post.
Pompey’s heads didn’t drop and to a background of ‘Avram Grant’s Blue and White Army’ they should have pulled a goal back soon after. Portsmouth had already lost 1-4 to Manchester United and Arsenal at Fratton Park this campaign and that should have been the scoreline a minute later, but Richard Hughes somehow contrived to head wide with the goal at his mercy.
Drogba might have had a hat-trick but volleyed over debutant Patrick Van Aarnholt’s teasing cross on the stretch from close range. Chelsea did get a fifth in injury time. Joe Cole’s cross was headed back by Drogba and headed in by Lampard from barely four yards out.
The scoreline flattered the Blues but offers a welcome respite from recent failures and gives the goal difference a welcome boost. The game also saw more success in front of goal for Drogba, Malouda and Lampard. The trio have now scored twenty of Chelsea’s last twenty three goals in the league (Drog: 10, FloMo: 5, Lamps: 5). Ancelotti will be hoping that they keep up their rich goal scoring form at home to FA Cup Semi-Final opponents Aston Villa on Saturday.