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Drogba turns back the clock

The initial chant was for the new cult hero and the greatest boon to wigmakers in West London since Ruud Gullit, David Luiz. Then came the choruses about John Terry and, in questionable taste ("he'll shoot who he wants") Ashley Cole. Later, the Chelsea great that West Bromwich Albion sacked, Roberto di Matteo, was celebrated in song along with a pair of strikers, Fernando Torres' sympathy vote being longer and more lasting than any appreciation of the outstanding Didier Drogba.

• West Brom 1-3 Chelsea: Report

Carlo Ancelotti went unmentioned. The Italian's two-season game - Double and quits - is nearing its conclusion as his long goodbye begins. He is a man in limbo, one conducting a lonely vigil on the touchline. And yet he went unacknowledged. Even the West Bromwich Albion supporters' taunt of "sacked in the morning" went unreturned.

Perhaps this is part of the Chelsea fans' Faustian pact with Roman Abramovich. Popular managers have departed before - as Claudio Ranieri experienced, Italians seem prone to extended farewells - but the owner's largesse prevents dissent. The pity was reserved for poor Torres; Ancelotti's exit may occur without an outpouring of emotion for a manager who has brought both dignity and trophies to Stamford Bridge.

He has a laconic fatalism, the infamous eyebrow arching more when asked about his own position over the next couple of months. "I have to wait for the decision of the club," Ancelotti said. "Practically I have a contract but I know very well we have not been good enough this season."

While there is an end of an era feel to Chelsea, however, there are occasions to suggest that decisions should be reconsidered and events to indicate that past remains more preferable to the future. This was one such; it was old-school Chelsea. A 4-3-3 formation represented a return to the tried and tested, rather than experimental shapes to try and integrate Torres; a buccaneering Drogba led the line with bravado and brilliance; and, as they did either side of last summer, the goals flowed in.

It was a match that implied little, besides the details contained on their birth certificates, is wrong with Chelsea. Theirs was a spirited riposte to the concession of the first goal. Indeed Peter Odemwingie's fine chip, following slick build-up, may have been the goal of the game.

A combination of Drogba and Scott Carson got Chelsea back into it. The goalkeeper missed Florent Malouda's cross before Nicky Shorey skewed his attempted clearance to Drogba. He drilled the ball home.

Four minutes later, his powerful burst culminated in a shot that Carson parried poorly into the path of Salomon Kalou, who finished with precision. Victory was secured on the stroke of half-time, Frank Lampard taking a chance clinically from Malouda's cross. The instigator, with a tackle to dispossess Odemwingie and a pass from his own half after displaying a Rooney-esque fondness for the left-back position, was Drogba.

"Didier was very good," added Ancelotti. It was a timely and a terrific performance; tellingly, Malouda and Lampard, two of his the greatest beneficiaries of presence, excelled alongside him. Moreover, the Ivorian's name has appeared among the likeliest to depart in a summer cull.

"It doesn't mean that because of Torres, Didier has to go," Ancelotti said. "He was a very important player in the past and he will be a very important player in the future." Yet Drogba, the alpha male of Chelsea's attack, has floundered alongside Torres and flourished without him. His 33 years are a factor but his manager said loyally: "I think that he has a body that he can continue for a long time."

Torres' body is as much as mystery as his mind. The hat-trick he managed was to be caught offside three times in the space of his eight-minute appearance, a sign that he didn't believe he had the speed to out-pace the Albion defence. On one, admittedly, he put the ball in the net and it was a marginal call. "He was really unlucky," said Ancelotti. "Maybe he will score in the next game."

Indeed, Terry's best attempts to end the drought that has now stretched to 701 minutes consisted of ordering Malouda to work a free-kick to the Spanish substitute. It was a move that backfired when Torres mis-kicked embarrassingly. "Everyone has confidence in him," Ancelotti added, though his actions suggested otherwise: he only brought on the £50 million forward at the very end of the match.

By then, victory was assured along with a first defeat for Roy Hodgson since his appointment by Albion. "You forget what losing's like and today we have to come to terms with it," he said. Safety is all but assured, but not guaranteed yet, prompting Hodgson to reach for a bizarre analogy. "As the Swedes so rightly say, no trees grow today and we have been reminded today we are a normal birch tree in West Bromwich," he said. "And we aren't going to be doing any Jack and the Beanstalks now." Indeed not; in Drogba, Chelsea had a mighty oak to slay Roy's beanstalk boys.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba - At his best, he remains the most destructive striker in the country, as he proved again. This was a performance to reinforce the theory that he and Torres are incompatible, however, so a big decision beckons for Chelsea in the summer.

WEST BROM VERDICT: Remarkably for a side who are almost safe, they have not kept a clean sheet since August (a Premier League record 31 games) and this illustrated why. While Carson had impressed since Hodgson restored him to the team, errors remain rather too regular. On the plus side, however, Albion play some excellent football and Odemwingie's cool finish shows why he ranks among the signings of the season.

CHELSEA VERDICT: They still appear far happier playing 4-3-3 with Drogba as the striking spearhead. Malouda and Kalou revelled in their roles on the flanks and it was significant that, with John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien doing more of the defensive duties, Lampard had the freedom to break forward and score.


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