Chelsea play ‘fantastic’ in title defence

Chelsea began their title defence with a 3-0 victory over Manchester City on Sunday, and Wayne Rooney scored twice to lead Manchester United over Fulham 5-1 in the English Premier League.

Despite the absence of Michael Ballack and five others, Chelsea took a 2-0 lead after goals from captain John Terry and midfielder Frank Lampard in the first 26 minutes at Stamford Bridge. Didier Drogba headed in the third in the 78th.

”We played very good, better than we could believe after such a difficult [pre-season] period,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. ”But the players understood well what we want and they played fantastic.

”I told them before the game it doesn’t matter how many players we have out; we have a team and they won clearly and played, in my opinion, high-quality football.”

Terry, who scored the first in England’s 4-0 victory over Greece on Wednesday, turned home a right-wing free kick from Arjen Robben in the 11th minute. Fourteen minutes later, Lampard collected a pass from Michael Essien and scored with a low, 18m shot that took a deflection off City defender Richard Dunne.

City’s chances of coming back were dented when striker Bernardo Corradi was sent off for his second yellow card in the 63rd minute.

The third Chelsea goal was a top-quality strike with Robben feeding Wayne Bridge with an expertly timed pass down the left and the left back aiming a cross toward Drogba. The lanky Côte d’Ivoire striker was initially facing the wrong way, but he headed the ball powerfully inside the near post.

Andriy Shevchenko, making his Premier League debut after his move from AC Milan, also had the ball in the net in injury time but it was ruled out for offside.

At Old Trafford, United showed they are still a strong attacking force even without Ruud van Nistelrooy, who moved to Real Madrid. The hosts scored four goals in the first 19 minutes, and Rooney added the fifth in the second half.

Former Fulham striker Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo also scored for United, while Cottagers defender Ian Pearce deflected Saha’s cross into his own net.

”It was a good start for us,” Rooney said. ”Getting four goals in the first half-an-hour was good for us because we could afford to relax. But we know it’s a long season and we have to continue like that.”

Like Paul Scholes, Rooney will miss United’s next three games through suspension after being sent off in a pre-season warm-up. ”Me and Scholesy are devastated, especially after the start we had today, and to sit out the next three games is a big disappointment for the both of us,” Rooney said.

Saha gave the Red Devils a seventh-minute lead when he headed in a right-wing cross from Ryan Giggs. It was 2-0 when United pulled the Fulham defence apart and Pearce, attempting to break up the move, turned a cross past his own goalkeeper, Antti Niemi.

Rooney scored his first goal of the season in the 16th minute. Niemi blocked a shot from Saha but the ball ran to Rooney, who side-footed home. The England striker set up the fourth in the 19th with a cross to Ronaldo, who half-volleyed the ball into the net.

Fulham replied five minutes before half-time when United defender Rio Ferdinand tried to block a shot from Heidar Helguson and deflected it past goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. But Rooney made it 5-1 in the 64th when Patrice Evra, Wes Brown and Ronaldo combined in a sweeping move to set up a close range shot for the striker.

”It’s probably our best start to a season,” said United manager Alex Ferguson, whose team last won the league title in 2003. ”The younger players are getting better, so I’m happy about that. The making and taking of the goals was excellent. Throughout the match we played with great confidence and belief.”

On Saturday, Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by visiting Aston Villa in its first game at the 60 000-seat Emirates Stadium, Liverpool could only draw 1-1 at promoted Sheffield United and Tottenham tumbled 2-0 at Bolton. — Sapa-AP

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