Michael Essien returns from injury as Chelsea beats Sunderland 1 – 0
Yesterday’s victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge was another serious nail-biter. Nail-biters have been in plentiful supply this season – with far too many 1 – 0 games excruciatingly equalized in the dying minutes of matches by Chelsea’s scrappy opposition. Sunderland tried to continue the trend Saturday with some excellent chances near the end that they fortunately bungled.
I was relieved to see Chelsea win of course, but there was another sense of relief accompanying the final whistle yesterday: seeing Michael Essien – my favorite Chelsea player – not only return to the pitch after a six-month knee-injury absence, but also successfully navigate eighteen minutes of Premier League match time unscathed. When I donned my Essien jersey for the game yesterday I had no idea he’d even made the bench. I hadn’t checked the roster prior to the match, and even though I knew he played in a reserves match last week, I figured it was still too early to see him join the first team in the dugout. So it was a tremendous surprise to see AVB chatting up Essien on the touchline as he was about to enter the game for Lampard! While Essien’s contributions were relatively low-key, he was immediately involved, stringing together a series of crisp passes that looked like the Essien of old. I cringed every time he received the ball near a Sunderland player, hoping they wouldn’t recklessly undo six months of difficult rehab. It is fantastic to see him back and I hope he’ll be among the regular starting eleven very soon.
Another Chelsea vet who saw some late action yesterday was Florent Malouda. I don’t think Malouda’s been given a fair shake so far this season. In fact, he’s been woefully underused, which has now negatively affected his match sharpness. Obviously, the Chelsea coaching staff is with him on a daily basis, so perhaps he’s been under-performing in training. But it’s difficult to understand why he was so swiftly relegated to benchwarmer status especially considering he was one of last season’s EA Sports Index first-team midfielders – for the entire Premier League! Like Lampard, I think Malouda has plenty left to offer and Chelsea would be foolish to squander it. With Drogba away on African Cup duty, hopefully Malouda will get some opportunities to show AVB what he’s got.
Speaking of personnel decisions, what do you think about Chelsea’s acquisition of defender Gary Cahill from Bolton?