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Aug 28, 2010

Blues trot out predictable win

Like so many of England's World Cup flops, Frank Lampard has started the Premier League season in less than convincing form and only now has it been revealed why the Chelsea talisman has been off the pace.

• Chelsea 2-0 Stoke

After a comfortable win against Stoke extended Chelsea's perfect start to the season, manager Carlo Ancelotti revealed Lampard will miss England's upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers as he prepares to go under the knife for a hernia operation in the next couple of days.

The news will come as a major blow to England boss Fabio Capello, who may also be forced to do without John Terry after he limped away from Stamford Bridge, with Ancelotti admitting his participation in the upcoming internationals is in doubt.

"Lampard will not be able to go with England he will have surgery to deal with his hernia problem and we have to wait and see with Terry," said Ancelotti. "He has hurt his leg and the medical team will have to assess whether he can make it for England. I am not so sure."

Lampard failed to sign off ahead of his brief break in grand manner as he missed a penalty ten minutes into this one-sided contest, yet it mattered little as Stoke's energy and commitment only served to earn them a modicum of respect after they went down to a 7-0 defeat on their last visit to Stamford Bridge back in April.

Indeed, their sterling efforts were a change in format at the start of a Premier League season that has seen white flags hoisted with far too much relish by the minnows who been content to accept their fate against star-studded opponents.

After Chelsea won their first two games 6-0, it seemed as if another massacre may have been on the cards as Ancelotti's men assumed control of this game from the off, with Lampard's early penalty miss merely delayed the inevitable as Chelsea ran rings around their opponents.

The only surprise was that the interval scoreline contained only a solitary Florent Malouda strike. Brilliant in its creation and clinical in its conversion, this goal was a 32nd minute work of art.

Such is the ease with which Chelsea are dismissing their opponents just now that complacency and even boredom are issues boss Ancelotti may need to eliminate from their mindset and their second half performance showed signs of both unwelcome qualities.

Indeed, had Glenn Whelan's stinging long-range shot dipped just under the bar rather than crashing off it, Stoke may have collected an improbable point, but Chelsea always had the capacity to respond if required and Didier Drogba's penalty confirmed their latest win.

And thus is the story of a Premier League season that is threatening to become a tale of one-side matches that offer little in terms of entertainment or intrigue, with the result of matches decided before the spectators hand over vast sums to attend and the players take the field.

Wigan's shock win at Tottenham on Saturday afternoon was a rare example of an upset result in a league that used to be famed for its unpredictable quality, as the emphatic wins recorded by Chelsea and Arsenal in the opening month of the campaign gave weight to the belief that this is no longer the most competitive league in the world.

On a weekend when Spain's domestic championship offers up its platter of superstars to the watching world, England's top flight is in danger of losing a touch of credibility as the minnows whose sole target is survival are following a path mapped out by Mick McCarthy as he plotted a relegation plan with Wolves last season.

Many a traditionalist howled with horror when McCarthy fielded his second string side for a trip to Old Trafford last season, effectively handing Manchester United three points, as he accepted his only hope of staying in the Premier League was by winning games against the lesser sides in the division.

The reality that McCarthy's decision was entirely justified means many of those in the bottom half of the table are now effectively following his lead by accepting that games against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are lost causes unworthy of their full attention.

At least Chelsea were forced to work for their victory against a gallant Stoke side who earned this tribute from Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti. "Stoke played a good game and everything was possible for them until we score the second goal," he said. "Our opponents maintained an excellent shape on the pitch and they made it very difficult for us to attack. I give them credit for fighting so hard and when it was 1-0, we had to pay attention and they came close when they hit the post.

"It was important for us to maintain concentration and we could have scored more goals if we were more decisive with the final ball. The goal we scored was fantastic and Malouda is in such good form right now."

It has felt as if Chelsea were embarking on an extended pre-season programme as they notched three Premier League wins with plenty to spare in the first month of the season and while more serious tests lie ahead, they are producing some delightful football right now.

With Malouda in sparkling touch, Michael Essien back to his best in midfield and Drogba and Nicolas Anelka a constant threat up front, the input of Lampard has barely been needed as Chelsea have put nine points on the board from their first three games. Ominous signs indeed.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Michael Essien. The return of this man mountain in the Chelsea midfield means the departures of Joe Cole and Michael Ballack is not being felt. He is a world class performer.

MALOUDA MAGIC: Ancelotti reserved special praise for Florent Malouda in his post match press conference and with good reason. He has been too good for Chelsea's modest rivals at the start of this season.

NEW FACE AT THE BRIDGE: Chelsea new boy Ramires earned a rapturous ovation when he came off the bench five minutes from time. He adds strength to the Blues midfield options.

CHELSEA VERDICT: Back to back games against Manchester City and Arsenal a month from now will tell us more about their prospects for this season, but they are far too good for minnows like Stoke.

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