Chelsea are not in the mood for any unnecessary drama at the moment. The chaotic defending has disappeared for now, giving way to greater structure, leaving the stage clear for the wonderfully inventive Hakim Ziyech to provide the ammunition for Frank Lampard’s side to produce a ruthless recovery from a goal down against Sheffield United.
It might have been a different story last season. Sheffield United played their part during a terrific first half, taking an early lead through David McGoldrick, and did not look like a team languishing at the bottom of the table. Yet it was a breeze in the end, Chelsea stirring after a slow start, showing conviction to fight back before half-time and maturity to keep United at arm’s length before running in late goals from Thiago Silva and Timo Werner.
Lampard savoured the steeliness from Chelsea, who lie a point off the top after moving up to third place. Their concentration levels never wavered once they established an advantage and their focus off the ball was accompanied by a creative edge, helped by Ziyech’s craft on the right.
Ziyech looks settled after his move from Ajax. He was outstanding here, playing a part in Chelsea’s first three goals and offering a range of passing that came in handy against awkward opponents. “For Ziyech to hit the ground running is a great sign,” Lampard said. “He’s a top-class player.”
Lampard was just as pleased with how his players responded to the early barrage from United, who hardly resembled a team without a league win since thumping Chelsea 3-0 five months ago, passing with an intensity that seemed to catch their hosts by surprise.
Chelsea stumbled as United drew errors. Sander Berge’s runs from midfield caused problems, particularly when he drifted to the right to help George Baldock double up on Ben Chilwell. Chelsea were ragged down their left and the opener arrived after Baldock, tearing behind Chilwell, won a ninth-minute corner.
The next sequence summed up the difference between the sides. Ziyech and N’Golo Kanté were slow to scent danger when Oliver Norwood worked a short corner routine with Baldock, who broke into space before crossing low. The wing-back’s cutback found Berge and although the Norwegian’s shot lacked power, there was nothing tame about the way McGoldrick diverted the ball past Édouard Mendy with a deft backheel.
Their run of five successive clean sheets in all competitions at an end, Chelsea could have panicked. Instead, they trusted themselves. They had almost taken the lead in the sixth minute, Aaron Ramsdale denying Chilwell, and the equaliser arrived in the 23rd minute. Ziyech was involved, cutting in from the right to pick out Mateo Kovacic’s run from deep with a gorgeous pass. United’s shape had disappeared and Kovacic’s flick found Tammy Abraham, who bundled in a slightly messy finish.
Normal service restored, Chelsea chased a second. Werner hit the bar after more Ziyech wizardry. Undeterred, Ziyech whipped in another cross and Chilwell arrived at the far post to score from close range.
It was possible to excuse United for failing to contain Ziyech, whose vision gave Chelsea so many options. Slender but ready to dig in, the winger withstood some tough challenges at times, taking the blows and floating in from the right to cause damage with his left foot.
With Ziyech pulling the strings, more goals were inevitable. United defended with heart but tired as the game wore on, cracking after conceding a soft free-kick on the right. Ziyech delivered and Silva glanced in his first goal since joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. “I think it’s a foul to us,” Chris Wilder said.
It turned into a rout when a loose touch from Max Lowe fell to Werner. Having offered little on the left for much of the evening, the German forward smashed high into the net, summing up Chelsea’s merciless attitude.