A trio of consecutive away games for the Champions begins at the Reebok Stadium tonight at a time that couldn’t be more ideal for Chelsea’s travelling support. A failure to win would mark three months without an away win for the Blues, but with two of their rivals for Champions League sport dropping points at the weekend it also presents a great opportunity to make up some much-needed ground on those around them.
Chelsea’s record at the Reebok is simply imperious in recent years. We have won there without conceding for seven consecutive years, scoring fourteen goals without reply in that time. This is the longest run of any host team without a goal against an opponent in Premier League history. Still, if there is a season when positive records should be destroyed, this is it. Be surprised if we keep a clean sheet away from home for only the third time this season. Bolton themselves have only kept two clean sheets all season, so odds on a 0-0 must be longer than usual.
Whilst Bolton have only lost at home only once this season (to, remarkably, Liverpool) they are now four league games without a win and in their last home outing, to York in the FA Cup, they required two late goals from substitutes Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander to see off the stubborn non-leaguers. The Trotters are reliant on their impressive striking duo to perform but have much ability in midfield too, with Martin Petrov, Stuart Holden (an injury doubt), Matt Taylor and Moreno all capable of some magic. At the back Zat Knight has been ever present this campaign and has looked better than usual, although he did suffer greatly at the hands of Stoke last weekend. Gary Cahill’s value continues to soar, with around £15 million the apparent required sum to capture his signature. New signing David Wheater goes straight into the home side’s squad.
Carlo Ancelotti was struck by injuries to his two most senior players last week, and it has been confirmed that Frank Lampard is ruled out, whilst Terry is touch and go. Lampard has played every minute of every game since his return against Arsenal and has many fond memories of this stadium, none more so than his brace which secured the league title here on 30th April, 2005. On the plus side John Mikel Obi returns ahead of schedule, perhaps evidence that Chelsea’s medical staff aren’t as inept as many are reporting. As Lampard can’t start he is the obvious replacement, whilst Ramires’ excellent recent form should see him retain his position.
There will be a tribute prior to the game to celebrate the life of Bolton Wanderers’ greatest ever player, Nat Lofthouse OBE, who died last week at the age of 85. He scored a remarkable 255 goals for Bolton and was known as the ‘Lion of Vienna’ after his heroics in an England victory in Austria. For his national side he scored 30 goals in 33 games. There will be wreaths laid out by both captains in front of the Nat Lofthouse stand along with a video commemorating his life and a minute’s silence.
After that the business will begin and what has seemed like a long weekend without football will be over. On a ground which has treated them so well in recent years Carlo Ancelotti must be hoping the time is finally here for an away win even if he will be without his inspirational midfielder once again.