CARLO ANCELOTTI insists he is no perfectionist but after this victory made it four wins and 17 goals in four matches this season, his primary focus was on correcting errors and bringing players down to earth for the start of the Champions League this week.
Chelsea head for Slovakian side MSK Zilina on Wednesday in the rudest of health after the kind of start to a Premier League season most clubs dream of. But while neutrals saw a perfect performance at Upton Park – and three more well-deserved points – Ancelotti saw causes for concern.
His half-time talk in east London was said to be frank and terse, even though Chelsea led 2-0 through early goals from Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou against a West Ham side that looked shot to pieces.
The alarm bells had been set ringing for Ancelotti when Carlton Cole scored an offside goal shortly before the break, just when his players should have been shutting up shop for the half-time whistle; and he was also worried about a lack of cutting edge, primarily because new signing Ramires looked out of his depth deputising for injured Frank Lampard.
“I said to my players at half-time, pay attention because the minute before they scored – it was offside but they scored – it was a difficult match,” he said. “We have to concentrate. I thought defensively overall we had a good performance but offensively we can do better.
“We have to be careful. We don’t want to be perfect because it’s impossible. But to have motivation you have to try to improve when it’s possible.”
It’s unlikely that Ancelotti’s attitude came as a shock to anyone inside the Chelsea dressing room; Jose Mourinho shared a similar approach in the past. But his unwillingness to believe in perfection shows there is more to the popular Italian than the convivial face he shows at press conferences.
“I’m not tough. I’m not,” he laughed when it was suggested he showed a steely side. “You’ll have to ask my players. They know because they have experience. They have played in World Cups, they have won the Premier League and they know how to behave in a game like this.”
The same cannot be said for West Ham who all but gifted Chelsea a two-goal lead through horrendous defensive errors. First, the entire Hammers defence, and in particular centre-half Matthew Upson, stood still as Essien powered home a header from a Drogba corner in only the second minute; and then England’s hapless World Cup goalkeeper Robert Green fumbled a straightforward free-kick from Drogba – and watched in agony as Upson cleared the ball against Kalou’s heels and into the net.
With West Ham fans cheering ironically whenever Green made a successful catch, the momentum was very much with the champions.
West Ham did dominate the second half, however, with Chelsea’s attack seemingly stuck in third gear. But when Essien headed home a Paulo Ferreira cross for 3-0, even Ancelotti knew the game was over – despite a spectacular consolation goal from Scott Parker that gave under-fire manager Avram Grant something to hold onto.
Ancelotti is likely to make changes for Wednesday’s game with Frank Lampard, who watched from the stands as he recovers from a hernia operation, expected to return in place of Ramires.
Captain John Terry will know this morning if he can travel to Slovakia, having left the field early on Saturday with a rib injury, while Didier Drogba is suspended for the first two matches of Chelsea’s European campaign after being sent off against Inter last season.
Essien’s second strike on Saturday was the club’s 18th in all competitions so far this season and goals are rapidly becoming what separates Ancelotti from Chelsea managers of the past. “I hope so,” the Italian said. “In Italy they said I had a defensive mentality so to be remembered for goals would be good.”
If those goals are allied to trophies, the memories will be all the sweeter. And if they help add the Champions League to the Premier League?
Even for Ancelotti that would have to be perfect.
Man of the match: Michael Essien: Outstanding, his energy levels are unmatched
Match rating: **** – Lots of action, an excellent goal from Parker and a comedy moment from Green and Upson. But not quite top quality
Referee: Chris Foy 7: No major mistakes.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved