The Observer, Paul Wilson: “After two successive away league defeats, Chelsea can now boast two clean sheets and plenty of goals against Bolton, whose dead-ball repertoire can cause even the best defences problems, though the home side were handicapped by having to play with 10 men for the whole of the second half after Jlloyd Samuel’s dismissal.”
Sunday Telegraph, Graham Chase: “Just about doing enough on a regular basis and still scoring four goals is what wins titles and that is exactly what Chelsea did against Bolton to maintain their advantage at the top of the Premier League.”
Sunday Times, Duncan Castles: “Concerns about set-piece defending have given way to clean sheets; queries about the narrowness of Carlo Ancelotti’s midfield have ceded to an admiration of its effectiveness when Chelsea open the scoring. If an opposition comprised of an Atletico Madrid on the point of sacking their manager, Blackburn and two variants of Bolton has not been elite level, Chelsea’s reply has been.”
Independent on Sunday, Myles Hodgson: “Following the 4-0 Carling Cup victory over the same opponents in midweek, Ancelotti’s biggest problem was to prevent complacency against a committed Bolton side used to upsetting the big four on home territory. Then again, after offering his grandmother’s remedy of red wine and hot milk as a cure for a potential swine flu outbreak at the club, he is unlikely to be unsettled by anything a football match presents.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Bolton … has been a happy hunting ground for Chelsea in recent years, with wins recorded here, without conceding, in the last six seasons.”
Hopefully I won’t let you guys down with the review but I’ve been ill all week and so it’s taken me a while to send over my copy to Nick tonight. But a soldier must never let the side down and therefore when I got the call from our Great Leader to sit down and watch our trip up to the snowy wastes of the North, i.e. the Reebok Stadium, I was only too happy to oblige.
The build up to this game has been relatively quiet, mainly due to our recent run of comfortable wins and the small matter of the North London derby but despite the absence of any Chelsea bombshells in the past week, there have been a couple of interesting stories which caught the eye including a potential swine flu scare, a worrying increase in the number of injuries at the club and the crowning of Joe Cole as a genius. Of most interest though was the announcement of the World Player of the Year shortlist. Predictably, Barcelona have dominated the list and this year’s race appears to be a tussle for second behind the genius of Lionel Messi but despite that, Chelsea have been very well represented. The extremely classy, extremely powerful and extremely German Mr. Ballack may have been the surprise inclusion but alongside our number 13 was the core of our side: JT, Essien, Lamps and Didier. My tip is for Lamps to get closest to the top three but I’m not sure anyone can beat Barcelona’s trio of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta or a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Anyway, back to the game. We were given the rather daunting challenge, if you believed the press, of following up our perfect run of victories over Atletico Madrid, Blackburn and Bolton with a trip to the Reebok. Some have been saying that we look weak and scared of the high ball away from home, an argument which is reminiscent of the Southern Softies up North argument of old, after two consecutive defeats on our travels. But apart from those of you who are prone to overreacting, most have moved on from an off day at Wigan and some awful defending against Villa to see that on the whole we’ve been playing some brilliant stuff, look threatening and confident in every match we play and are rightly leading the way at the top of the table. Some of us are saying that the title is ours for the taking with United looking poor and only Wenger’s kids looking like posing any sort of threat to us and a win today would go along way to silencing the critics. I firmly believe that Carlo will lead us to glory this year and today’s performance was worthy of potential Champions.
Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Ferreira; Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Deco; Anelka, Drogba.
Subs: Turnbull, Joe Cole, Malouda, Sturridge, Alex, Belletti, Borini.
Basically the big guns were back and the diamond was still firmly in place despite some ill informed hacks questioning its effectiveness away from home. Idiots.
Bolton responded predictably to their 4-0 thrashing on Wednesday by sprinting around like headless chickens for the first ten minutes to show that they “meant business”. Personally I thought they looked clueless and were simply attempting to appease the few home fans who bothered to turn up by getting at ‘em as ‘Arry would say. But soon we settled down and took control of the game. Our midfield was full of movement, creativity and class. It’s a word I’ve used many times lately but I feel that it best describes our team at the moment. We’re a classy team who play beautiful football and today was no different. Anelka and Ivanovic were competing for the Man of the Match award after the first twenty minutes thanks to their brilliant movement, running and passing. Ivanovic was raiding down the right wing to great effect and Anelka was superbly playing the role of the support striker. His movement, pace and work-rate overwhelmed Bolton and after 20 minutes he linked up brilliantly with Didier to latch onto a through ball but his shot was well saved at the near post by Jasskelainen. Our midfield was controlling proceedings but our final ball and finishing was relatively poor and it looked like we would need a moment of brilliance to break Bolton’s resistance. On the 25 minute mark it looked like we would get just that. Didier chipped over a lovely cross which found Ivanovic on the penalty spot whose first effort was blocked but from the subsequent rebound he struck home a wonderful left footed volley into the top corner. It was a stunning finish but the officials decided to ruin it all by ruling it out for offside against Ballack. Personally, I thought he was nowhere near the ball but it didn’t matter in the end as our quality was just too much for plucky Bolton. They offered nothing apart from some hopeless long balls up to Davies and deserved the battering we would give them in the second half.
As the first half continued, Deco and Frank began to get more involved in the game and their link up play with Anelka and strangely Ivanovic was sublime. Anelka, Didier, Ballack and Deco all had shots blocked on the edge of the box after more beautiful build up play and on most days, I would start to get worried that we would never find that elusive first goal. But today was different. The Chelsea pressure was incessant and as the second half eventually showed, we were unstoppable. It didn’t quite reach those levels until the 45th minute when we sprung the first of numerous devastating counter-attacks. Paulo was defending in the left-back position but he cleverly found Essien and within seconds Didier was bearing down on goal after brilliant passing between Essien, Deco and Ballack. Samuel cynically tripped him and was rightly sent-off and thankfully Frank converted yet another penalty to make it 1-0 at half-time. That was his eighth goal against Bolton and was the least we deserved from our lovely first half play.
The second half was simply more of the same. Bolton gave it a good go for a couple of minutes but soon we were breaking forward and exploiting the extra space to devastating effect. Anelka was finding space in the channels and was combining brilliantly with Didier but the big man’s finishing was horribly similar to the Barcelona game last season. We know he’s not the best finisher but on two one-on-ones he simply blasted the ball into the stomach of Jasskelainen and spoilt yet more great midfield play. A David Villa or Pato would thrive in this side and despite the power of Didier and movement of Anelka working really well at the moment, a world class finisher looks like the missing piece in our title chasing jigsaw. Anyway, there would be no stopping us. Frankly, we were battering them. Anelka’s shot was blocked from a Deco cut-back, Lamps smashed a stunning drive against the bar from a Deco corner and Ballack had another long range effort blocked. In the end it fell to Deco to end this game. From a Bolton corner, Ricky went on another of his crazy runs and found Anelka on the halfway line. He turned and beat two men before feeding Deco in the inside-right channel. He beautifully feigned to shoot, cut back onto his left foot and curled the ball into the bottom corner. It was a beautiful finish to a beautiful move but that wouldn’t be the end to the stunning football. After a lull in proceedings as we had a nice little siesta before our trip to Madrid on Tuesday, Frank awoke me from my slumber. An amazing (starting to run out of adjectives now) first time volleyed pass to the left wing found Ricky who cut inside Davies and crossed brilliantly (I know, too many brilliantlies but we really were, well, brilliant) to Ivanovic who forced the ball home via Knight’s shoulder. I know Knight got the final touch but Ivanovic deserved a goal and so I’m giving it to him. But the best was still to come in the 90th minute. Paulo fed Anelka and he crossed to Deco on the edge of the box. Deco then chested the ball to Frank who back-hell volleyed (is that a move?) it to Didier who then volleyed the ball home. It was the goal of the season thus far and was the perfect end to a rather perfect performance.
- Midfield – I love this midfield four and feel a little bit guilty about saying that after Joe’s recent performances. But it’s overflowing with power, experience, creativity, vision, goals and any other attribute you can think of. Essien’s departure will hurt us and I wouldn’t be surprised if we brought in someone like Daniele De Rossi but at the moment our midfield is simply unstoppable.
- Performance/goals – Our build-up play, movement and goals were stunning at times. We’re full of confidence and people only need to see our fourth goal to see how well we’re playing at the moment. United should start worrying.
- Players – There were so many good performances that it would be wrong of me to only pick out one. But Anelka, Ivanovic, Didier, Deco and Frank were all in brilliant form.
- Liverpool defeat – Rafa conceded defeat in the title race after an hour by taking off Torres and if they lose on Wednesday, then it’s all over in Europe as well. But they were shocking at Fulham and all these defeats are getting rather embarrassing.
- Match of the Day highlights – We deserved more than a pathetic eight or nine minutes.
- Avram – Just caught a glimpse of him on Match of the Day but his haunting appearance still gives me the shivers.
- Cech – 6/10 – A spectator frankly but claimed Bolton’s long punts up field very nicely indeed.
- Ivanovic – 9/10 – The Match of the Day highlights didn’t do his performance justice. Was full of running but more than that his defending, crossing and link-up play was brilliant. At times he can look clumsy when attacking but today confirmed my belief that he should be our first choice right-back.
- Carvalho – 8/10 – Many thought that Carlo should have chosen Alex to combat the aerial threat of Davies and Elmander but Carlo was vindicated in his decision to choose Carvalho. His nudges, trips and shirt pulls were all there but his interceptions, calmness in the tackle and counter-attacking were hugely impressive. Not sure he can sustain it but he can still look world-class at times.
- Terry – 7/10 – A very solid performance from our captain and he kept Davies quiet all game.
- Ferreira – 7/10 – Personally, I love Paulo. As Jose said, he’ll never let you down and will always put in a 7/10 performance. Is certainly not a direct replacement for Ashley but his defending was exemplary and that’s all you can ask from him. Welcome back.
- Essien – 7/10 – Another all-action performance and as I’ve said on numerous occasions, he is revolutionising the Makelele role. Everyone thought that he would be wasted there but he has adapted his game and now looks perfectly suited to the… Essien role. It’s certainly not a regulation holding role anymore.
- Ballack – 7/10 – Everyone in our midfield was brilliant and even though he was overshadowed by others, his class, experience and general presence are crucial to the side.
- Lampard – 8.5/10 – Deserved more goals but his passing and movement were devastating. The bullet from Deco’s corner almost broke the crossbar but it was his back heel volley for the fourth that was simply stunning.
- Deco – 8/10 – Early on he was hustled off the ball but as he found space he showed everyone how perfectly he can play the number 10 role. Joe may have rightly grabbed the headlines this week but Deco can still show more than just a couple of flashes of genius. He may not have the pace but his vision, creativity and shooting are a rival for most in that position.
- Drogba – 8/10 – A minus point for his awful finishing in the second half but apart from that he was again unstoppable. That sums it up really.
- Anelka – 9/10 – Another brilliant display and he really deserved a goal but his movement and running tore apart Bolton on their own.
Man of the Match
It could have been anyone really but I’m going to give it to Ivanovic. Anelka, and Frank were brilliant but Ivanovic played the right-back role to perfection and after his first half volley was struck off his goal (yes he did score) his second half goal was enough to cap a lovely performance from our Serbian powerhouse.
I make no apologies for saying that we look unstoppable at the moment. The title is surely ours if we can get past a tricky run up to Christmas and bring in some fresh talent to cover for the African Nations’ Cup and our summer transfer ban. Our build up play and movement are Barcelona-esque and the United game next Sunday should cement our position at the top of the league. I can’t wait.
Now, off to bed to rest my throbbing head.