Who knows what to expect with Chelsea anymore? Imperious at times, impotent at others, the days of crushing opponents week in, week out seem to have come to an abrupt end. However, a perfect away record in the Premier League at least harks back to ’the good old days’. With a trip to the Reebok Stadium this Saturday, the home of Bolton Wanderers and the ground which holds such triumphant memories for us, the good times could be back for another week at least.
As Christmas quickly approaches, Luis Felipe Scolari must be thinking of asking Santa for a ‘plan B’ when it comes to breaking down defensive opposition. Without a home win since the start of November, the points have dried up and the vultures have long finished picking apart Avram Grant, with the Brazilian supreme seemingly their next target.
Drops in form haven’t helped, while the permanent injury problem persists in earnest. Franco Di Santo, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho and the frustratingly perma-wounded Joe Cole all remain on the sidelines along with long-term victim Michael Essien. The downright annoying Didier Drogba is still suspended. Nicolas Anelka will again face a former club as he leads the line alone. Mid-week rumours in a particular broadsheet newspaper suggest that the majority of the squad have finally lost patience with dismal winger Florent Malouda, with Wayne Bridge their preferred replacement on the left, however by that reckoning Salomon Kalou must have plenty of friends in the dressing room as he finds himself in the starting XI more often than not in recent games. We will have to wait until Saturday to see if Deco has returned from wherever he seems to disappear to when the going gets tough.
Bolton meanwhile have enjoyed a mini-rennaisance of sorts in the past few weeks, with four wins from their five games in November. Their most recent victory sent Roy Keane to the dole office, with an emphatic 4-1 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. It followed victories over Middlesbrough, Hull and Manchester City, with the only blip a 2-0 defeat against Liverpool in the middle of the month.
Gary Megson’s side have a couple of injury doubts, with Matthew Taylor – a scorer in Bolton’s last two games – and Joey O’Brien rated 50/50 for selection. Striker Ricardo Vaz Te is out for the entirety of the season. Because of their recent run of form and a Premier League table tighter than a Russian billionaire during a credit crunch, Bolton find themselves in the top half, 9th to be precise, despite having been described as relegation fodder in the first few months of the campaign. Their home record is poor however, with just two wins from seven games at the Reebok, and only six goals scored.
The last time we went to Bolton, we came away with a narrow 1-0 win, a Kalou goal securing all three points. Our most recent game against the Trotters however was on the last day of last season, with the mathematical possibility of a title win still on the table before the match. However, with Manchester United winning at Wigan, the trophy engravers probably started etching the ‘M’ when Matthew Taylor scored an injury-time equaliser at the Bridge to cancel out Andriy Shevchenko’s second-half opener. A disappointing but somehow predictable end to the 2007/08 season.
There have been happier occasions against Bolton of course, with a Frank Lampard double securing the title back in 2005. It’s moments like that we can look back on during this bleak period…Oh, and of course the fact that we’re only one point off the top of the league, chasing a toothless Liverpool side with a crocked striker, we have a World-cup winning manager, a squad which has battled through far worse situations, and six months of football left to prove we are winners.
November’s been and gone. Forget about it. Now it’s time for the backlash to begin on Saturday.
Prediction: We play Bolton at the same time that Liverpool travel to struggling, no-hopers Blackburn Rovers. It’s inevitable then, a win for us and a last-minute Robbie Fowler goal for Paul Ince’s side to send us back to the top of the table! John Terry and co will pull through to deliver our side of the bargain, and I’m expecting a 2-0 win for the Blues.