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Malouda Halts Chelsea Collapse


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Chelsea FC 1-0 Bolton

Wednesday 29 December 2010, the FA Premier League League, Stamford Bridge

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Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea battled to their first win in seven with a hard-fought victory over in-form Bolton Wanderers.

Having been on the receiving end of a morale-crushing 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on Monday, Chelsea were in need of an immediate response - and Florent Malouda's ninth goal of the season ensures 2010 comes to a close in victorious fashion, bringing the curtain down on a magnificent year for the football club.

Whilst memories of a Premier League and FA Cup double are a far-cry for the Blues' current domestic woes, Malouda's goal on the hour mark was enough for Chelsea to collect their first three-point haul in the Premier League since early November and bring to a close their worst run of form in more than a decade.

And whilst Carlo Ancelotti's men were far from their imperious best, it was a marked improvement from the pathetic collapse that Chelsea fans were forced to endure either side of half-time at the Emirates earlier in the week. The Blues' incredible spiral of decline may have been halted for now, but much better performances and more-convincing results are required before the Stamford Bridge faithful are able to look back on this shocking run of form with something resembling a wry smile.

Yet after a woefully poor run of results, the mere taste of victory will come as the greatest confidence booster for the defending champions, who end the year in fourth place but still within touching distance of leaders Manchester United. Winning the Premier League title is not an impossible task but a victory against Bolton Wanderers - with all due respect to the Trotters and their superb showing so far this campaign - is not enough to say the rot is well and truly over.

Nevertheless, Chelsea now enter 2011 in winning form, bringing to a close a turbulent end to the calendar year. Much like last season, where a victory against Fulham prior to the turn of the year sought to change the Blues' fortunes on the pitch for the remainder of the campaign, this solitary victory may be looked back upon in similar fashion - hopefully as the cornerstone to further success.

However it was more of the same from the champions in the first half of their crunch-clash with fifth-placed Bolton. Prior to the game there was talk of this being a season-defining moment for Chelsea and a pivotal match for Ancelotti to prove his credentials, but lethargy and half-heartedness was apparent throughout the host's attack as Bolton edged the opening exchanges.

They ought to have taken a deserved lead when their adventurous intent was almost rewarded by Matthew Taylor, but the ex-Portsmouth man was just wide of Petr Cech's far upright with a daisy-cutter of an effort. Bolton continued to pile on the pressure but Blues skipper John Terry was in magnificent stead and denied Johann Elmander with a superb block whilst Cech was thankfully commanding between the sticks despite the evident vulnerability of Chelsea's shaky defence.

The Blues' attack was again infuriating - everything that went forward was either over- or under-hit, and a lack of drive and purpose betrayed Chelsea of any meaningful attack until after the interval.

The first signs of a spark in the Chelsea midfield came from the boot of Frank Lampard, making the meandering journey back to full fitness with an improved performance. The England midfield split Bolton's backline apart with a fine raking ball, finding Didier Drogba, and whilst the Ivorian beat Jussi Jaaskelainen the woodwork was in defiant mood, and the ball came back off the foot of the post and was hacked away to safety.

Michael Essien then found Jaaskelainen in fine form as he expertly kept out an effort from the Ghanaian, whilst a Lampard volley again tested the Finnish goalkeeper's reactions. Drogba, meanwhile, cut a frustrated and out-of-sorts figure up front.

The much-needed breakthrough followed shortly after when Drogba was again found in space by Chelsea's industrious midfield. Michael Essien did superbly to muscle his way beyond two tackles to feed the marauding Chelsea striker, and he squared for Malouda to tap home his ninth goal of the season.

It was a move befitting the champions and their flowing football at the beginning of the campaign, but Bolton were not yet done as an attacking force. Stuart Holden - arguably the Premier League's most under-rated player this term - saw a penalty appeal turned down as a shot appeared to hit John Terry's arm, before he tested Cech's reactions with a bullet header than was superbly parried by the Chelsea custodian.

However the best chance that fell the Trotters' way belonged to Sam Ricketts, who could only lash over the bar almost instantly after the Chelsea opener when a composed side-foot may have been rewarded. At the other end, Ashley Cole's shot skipped horribly in front of Jasskelainen but the Finn did well to smother the ball behind for a corner, whilst Bolton's final chance was blocked by Drogba inside the penalty area.

This solitary triumph will not stop Chelsea's rot alone, but it does ensure the Blues end 2010 in victorious fashion and bring a memorable year to a winning close. Further improvement is needed however, a thought echoed by Carlo Ancelotti. 'Now we have to wait until the next game. The win was a big step, it will take a weight from our shoulders, but I am not sure if everything will be okay, it will depend on our next performance.'

We all agree, Carlo. That being said, more of the same - a scrappy and hard-fought 1-0 win - against Villa on Sunday would do nicely. It wasn't 6-0, but it's an equally important result for Chelsea Football Club. The Blues may well have turned a corner, but let's take it one step at a time. But with Arsenal and Manchester United both dropping points over the last 24 hours, there is still evidence that this Premier League title race still has a long way to run.

Bring on 2011.

___________________________________________________________________

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech, Bosingwa (Ferreira 90+2), Ivanovic, Terry; © Cole; Ramires, Essien, Lampard; Anelka (Kalou 90), Malouda; Drogba.

Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Ricketts, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Moreno (Klasnic 71), Muamba, Holden (M Davies 81), Taylor (Petrov 76); K Davies ©, Elmander.

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 26, John Terry

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Wasn't able to watch the game, but several sites reported Bosingwa as being very poor, especially defensively. What was his performance like?

to be honest it was respectable, he wasn't as tough/physical as he once brushing off players in the back but he was effective pushing up.

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