Drogba - The best striker in the world?
CHELSEA 1-0 WEST HAMThere were few complaints when the names of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were put forward by FIFA as the three best footballers in the world on Friday, yet one Chelsea player must have viewed the news as confirmation of his beliefs.
While the star men of AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona fully deserve to be recognised as the best in the game after a series of stunning performances in 2007, Didier Drogba could easily have been tossed into the mix when the game's finest talent is assessed.
His goals won Chelsea the FA Cup and Carling Cup this year and while the internal troubles for the West London club have overshadowed his achievements, their Ivory Coast forward has kept them afloat. In fact, it's not going too far to suggest he is the best striker in the world right now.
The creative trio who have been put forward as the final contenders for FIFA's most prestigious prize later this month score as many goals as a prolific striker, yet when it comes to an out-and-out target man, Drogba has been head and shoulders above the rest of late.
As the man himself suggested just a few months ago, the fact that he is not playing for a 'big club' works against him when it comes to being nominated for such awards, yet while this is almost certain to be his final season in the blue of Chelsea, his effort and commitment to the cause has been commendable.
Drogba rocked the clubs to its core when by claiming he couldn't wait to leave Chelsea in an explosive newspaper interview following Jose Mourinho's departure, yet the big No.11 has followed up his outburst with a series of performances confirming his class.
He might not love the club he is playing for, but it isn't stopping him giving his all to the cause and while some supporters may have been ready to jeer and heckle the powerhouse forward as he sees out his final few months as a Chelsea player, all have been won over by a professional and mature approach in recent weeks. Star names often go missing when their heart is set on a move away, but Drogba has proved himself to be better than the rest.
Watching him in action against a hard working West Ham side at Stamford Bridge was an example of a striker at the peak of his powers. Powerful, determined and displaying the sort of work rate you might expect from a kid being given his debut, he was Chelsea's outstanding player by some distance.
From the first minute to the last, the striker whose only flaw is his tendency to over-react when tackled, dragged a leg-weary Chelsea side towards victory. With many of his team-mates struggling to perform at their peak, Drogba's off-the-ball rallying calls were impressive and even though the service coming his way was lacking the required quality, his head never dropped.
Even though this will not go down as his finest hour in a Chelsea shirt, it confirmed once again that he is the striker any defender would dread trying to nullify and on a day when West Ham's Matthew Upson did well to hold him, he was undone in the end.
Inevitably, Drogba played a part Chelsea's winning goal in against a West Ham side who deserved a point after a gutsy display. His flick on in the build-up to Joe Cole's 75th minute winner displayed his aerial dominance and the finish applied by the little England winger was composed.
This was the sort of gritty win Chelsea were famous for during the Mourinho era and with it, they moved firmly into contention at the top of the table. Whisper it quietly, but Avram Grant's men could be serious contenders for the title this season.
It's fair to assume the Premier League title race will be contested by a team from Manchester and another from London, yet the team challenging the champions from Old Trafford might just be sporting blue shirts. Amid the euphoria over Arsenal's impressive and eye-catching start to the season, the seeds of Chelsea's ominous revival have been overlooked.
Mourinho's dramatic departure gave the doubters of this club a chance to claim the era of the rapidly manufactured Stamford Bridge dynasty had come to an end. The cynics were quick to claim Chelsea's flirtation with the big-time would be as brief as had long been predicted, yet they are getting themselves back in the title race under Grant and wins like this suggest they should not be discounted as potential title winners.
Petr Cech, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Drogba are still among the most consistent players in the Premier League and even if there are still plenty of reservations about Grant's ability as a top level coach, he will win plenty of games with this much talent in his side.
They always say champions win games when they are not at their best and this was a day when Chelsea managed to return to type, yet their title ambitions could be shattered by the imminent departure of the man who papered over the cracks so exposed at the club during the last year.
Drogba is set to spend January playing for the Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup and unless they spend big on a striker when the transfer window reopens, you have to wonder whether the faltering Andriy Shevchenko can fill the gap left by the departed colossus who was in humble mood after this win.
'We are still behind the top two and deserve to be there at the moment, but the season is still long and we have the chance to come in front of them,' stated Drogba. 'We were tired because of the Champions League game just three days ago and it was difficult for us at the start. West Ham worked hard and made things difficult for us, but we stayed calm and had the chance to score.'
You only realise how much Jose Mourinho is missed from the game when you see replacement Avram Grant conducting press conferences as he was boring and bland once again in his assessment of this victory.
'It was not easy game because West Ham defended very well,' said the Israeli, clearly keen to enter a stating the obvious competition. 'First half we didn't play well, second half we play better and this was a very good win. Sometimes you have to win when you don't play so well and we did this.'
Grant's has been keen to promote the idea that Chelsea side are much more exciting to watch than Mourinho's model, yet this was not a day to confirm such a notion. Still, he is answering his critics with each win he notches and is fortunate to be working with a true master of the world game; Any manager with Didier Drogba in his side would have a chance.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba
This was far from a vintage Chelsea performance, but they were led by a striker who never gives anything less than total commitment. Drogba will be a loss to the Premier League if he leaves next summer.
BRING BACK JOSE: While Avram Grant gives little away to the media, Mourinho's version of events in this game may have included some abuse for the referee, a snipe at one of the opposition players for a 'terrible' tackle no one else saw and a bit of abuse for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Ah, how we miss you Jose.
FOOD WATCH: A nice early morning breakfast was much appreciated, though it did little for the pre-Christmas diet.
VERDICT: This was a Mourinho-style victory for Chelsea, yet you wonder whether they can produce results like this when the mighty Drogba is absent for most of January.