The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Chelsea were bloodied and bruised here , yet their challenge to secure this club’s first Double has never appeared healthier. There was to be no swashbuckling dismissal of Bolton Wanderers to propel the Londoners four points clear of Manchester United at the top. Grit, and a deal of good fortune, ultimately proved sufficient: this team will take victories of any kind from now on in.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea seemed plagued by final-lap nerves, although they were simply not allowed to settle by Owen Coyle’s energetic, well-organised Bolton side. Kevin Davies and Jack Wilshere troubled Chelsea’s defence and when the final whistle blew, the roar around the Bridge could have been heard in a certain Wilmslow household.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “It was a night at Stamford Bridge that was more about endurance than enjoyment. Bolton’s brand of football and the importance of the occasion were always likely to make a flowing football spectacle unlikely but at least the Blues didn’t leave it late to score, the headed winner that owed a lot to Didier Drogba’s quality coming shortly before half-time.”
With United failing to take three points at Blackburn we can afford to drop a couple of points in the run in and still win the league. I’d much rather save that leeway for Spurs or Liverpool though rather than cocking up against Bolton at home. And despite protestations from Owen Coyle that he ‘knows’ how to beat us (and let’s face it, I know how to fuck Jessica Alba, but that isn’t going to happen, is it?), and Ferguson’s best attempt at a pep talk for the Bolton players, this game should still be a straightforward win for Chelsea.
The line ups
The side we put out against Villa looks like the best team we can cobble together due to the current injuries, and part of that is down to having two natural wingers in Joe Cole, who is starting to look like the real deal again in recent weeks, and the brilliant Malouda. Both of those guys are rested tonight along with Ballack coming in for Deco, perhaps to help deal with the physical side of Bolton’s game.
Cech, Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Zhirkoff, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou, Drogba, Anelka.
Drogba and Anelka haven’t really clicked when they’ve started together in recent games so I’m hoping tonight is different.
The first half
We started fairly brightly in the game, with our first good chance after just five minutes. Zhirkoff did a lovely dribble on the left to put Bolton’s right-back off balance before cutting inside and then squaring the ball just as he entered the area. Lampard stepped over the pass to leave it to Drogba who put it a yard or two over the bar from a solid side footed shot. A minute later the big guy nearly had another chance when a Lampard through ball saw him one-on-one with Jussi only for it to be flagged offside, which was a pretty close call.
After the bright start our game didn’t really get into a higher gear as I’d hoped for, with Bolton having their share of possession without creating much as our defence held firm. We weren’t looking all that purposeful either. There was a nasty clash of heads in our area after twenty minutes between Davies and Zhirkoff which left our Russian covered in blood but also seemed to wake him up a bit as he went on to be our best performer. We seemed to use the small breather as he got some treatment to refocus slightly as we took charge of the game more from here on, albeit really only creating half-chances until the goal.
The first of these half-chances was just before the half hour as Drogba curled in a free kick from about 25 yards out which Jaskelainen could only parry into the packed area where it hit Kalou at point-blank range and bounced agonisingly just wide. Another five minutes or so after this Anelka crossed in from the left only for Drogba’s attempt at a Joe Cole-esque flick through the legs to fail. Although we still hadn’t created anything gilt-edged since the first five minutes Bolton aren’t threatening too much at this point. As expected against Bolton anything in the centre of the pitch is being strongly contested and the best opportunity for either team to score looks like a free kick or corner. Drogba then has another free-kick which this time beats the keeper but also goes wide of the post, though it does have some nice dip and swerve on it.
Just as I’m wondering how much some of the players (Drogba and Zhirkoff aside) really want to win this game we break quickly, and a dangerous looking cross along the floor from Anelka is blocked on the edge of the six-yard box and goes for a throw in. Bolton clear the initial ball but it comes straight to a blue shirt still in Bolton’s half, and our midfield knocks it about a few times, probing for an opening, before it goes out to the left. A peach of a Drogba cross leaves Anelka the simplest of nods home from deep in the box. I knew I was right to doubt them starting together…
That goal was scored with five minutes to go in the half, and we have a couple more almost-chances before the whistle – Kalou is teed up on the edge of the area but his shot goes over the bar, and a lovely chipped ball to Drogba is cut out just before it reaches him in the area. Overall I can’t complain with a lead at half time, but I’d like to see us dominate a bit more in the second period. I’m actually quite disappointed with Bolton who look like the long ball bruisers they were under Big Sam – I thought Coyle may have got them playing more football.
The second half
…starts with a long ball from Bolton which is easily dealt with. A minute later they get a free kick which is again lofted straight into the area. As Drogba tries to head it clear the ball accidentally hits his hand and Bolton appeal, but the ref ignores them. It was never a penalty in a hundred years but it was also nice to see that fate doesn’t want to fuck us over. Bolton then spend the next ten minutes making a half-hearted attempt to ‘go for it’ (translation: hit the long balls up there), but you can see the manager’s instructions are more along the line of “keep it tight and see if we can nick anything” rather than going all out for the equaliser.
After 55 minutes we should really be two up as Drogba’s lovely through ball finds Kalou with just the ‘keeper to beat but his shot is well saved – it’s one of them where the keeper gets a bit on it to deflect the shot but for a second it looks like it may loop in anyway. To be fair to Kalou it was a good run to create the chance but the pass to him was sublime and deserved better; the commentator for the Russian channel I was watching suddenly broke into English to use the phrase ‘inch-perfect’.
A few minutes after that chance Kalou nearly threads a great pass on the inside of the full-back to put through Ferreira, but a last ditch tackle from Matty Taylor saves Bolton. We started to create a bit more at this stage as we get a sniff of a second, and we’re getting the most joy down the left. Zhirkoff and Lamps exchange a one-two which ends with Yuri having a shot from a tight angle which is well stopped. From the save Bolton broke quickly and Taylor was on his own just inside our half with a run at goal, but before he got more than a few yards he was held up and then crowded out by a combination of Paulo, Alex and JT. Good attention from our defence who haven’t been stretched by Bolton but have needed to do all the basics well.
On about 65’ Carlo introduced Malouda and then (after 70’) Joe Cole for Anelka and Kalou respectively. Despite the goal I’m still not convinced that the Drogba/Anelka partnership is providing the width we need to stretch the opposition, but Nico did have a reasonable game. Kalou also continued his form of the second half of this season and looks fairly useful whilst still probably being our weakest winger. Obviously Florent is that man of the moment and one of Malouda’s first touches is to play it to Zhirkoff on the overlap, who whips in a lovely cross that the Bolton defence just gets to before Ballack.
With a quarter of an hour left we’re still going for that second without hitting top gear, though the game isn’t really flowing so it’s difficult for us to build up a lot of pressure. Alex plays a pass along the floor from a deep position, but Kalou has to wait for it and as the ball runs across his body he can’t get enough power for his shot to beat Jussi. At this point my stream cut out, but I’ve been reliably informed by the BBC that Lampard seized the opportunity to hit the post with one of his long shots.
The picture is back again with ten minutes to go. I’m aware that I’m kind of listing chances now but it’s hard just to pick on one or two moments – it’s a scrappy game and Bolton are doing a Drogba, one minute looking strong as hell and the next falling under any challenge so they can win a free kick and hit the ball forward into our box. Apart from that Bolton are more interested in defending, and to give them credit they didn’t do a bad job.
Well, on to the next half chance: Malouda floats in a corner which travels all the way to Terry who volleys just wide from the edge of the area. The Bolton man on the post gets the faintest of touches but it’s going (just) wide anyway.
Five minutes to go and Bolton have followed the plan so far – they’ve kept it tight – and now they get their best chance of the half to try and nick one. Elmander peels half a yard away from Terry on the far post as a cross comes in but he can’t quite direct his header on target as JT still manages to put him under a bit of pressure. If that had gone in though… I don’t really want to think about it. Bolton deserved nothing from the game and happily that’s what they ended up with.
There are a few minutes of injury time which allow a good little cameo from JC as he slaloms past a few defenders, keeping the ball as he dribbles across the final third, and then a last Bolton throw-in which drops to Matty Taylor who thankfully drags his shot well wide, but then it’s the final whistle and a lot of relief from me. We should never have only won by a single goal but at this stage of the season I don’t really give a shit. Four points clear!
It wasn’t a performance to remember from most players and I was tempted to give out a few sixes, but everyone gave a professional performance and so I’ve been slightly more generous:
- Zhirkoff – 8 – My Man of the Match. I thought he tormented the Bolton right-back. He may not be able to defend as well as Ashley but he isn’t too far from him on the attacking side of things. Less of a gobby shite too.
- Drogba – 7.5 – A few good free kicks, held the ball up well, and got an assist. He would have two had Kalou been more clinical.
- Alex, Terry and Ferreira – 7 – The defenders all get a 7 for dealing well with the physical game and making sure Bolton didn’t get any good chances.
- Lampard, Mikel, Ballack, Anelka, Kalou – 6.5 – These guys played to be just better than Bolton rather than grabbing the game by the balls. Malouda and Cole get a 6.5 as they didn’t really have enough time on the pitch to deserve more.
After losing to Milan we’ve thrashed Portsmouth and Villa, beaten Utd to go top, and won an FA Cup semi-final. It must be hard to motivate yourselves for Bolton at home after that lot, so I’m keeping the performance in perspective and trying to just stay happy with the three points.
On Saturday we go to White Hart Lane (I’m using the proper name so as not to jinx it) and you can be sure the players will be up for that game. I’ve also got a feeling Ancelotti will resort to Cole and Malouda on the wings, and I’d also like to see Deco picked (never thought I’d write that). I really rate Ballack, and if we are one-nil up I want him on the pitch as he has a knack of winning the ball and getting free-kicks for us. Against Spurs though I want to see Deco back as we just seem more creative with him in the side.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!