Wasn’t January supposed to be difficult for us? A quick look at the table finds us in the driving seat ahead of a big weekend. We’d heard since August that the African Cup of Nations would seriously dent any title aspirations the club may have had. The superb form of Drogba and Essien didn’t exactly counter the argument and more punditry widely predicted that this was the month when we would fall behind in the title race. After a shaky December the wheels were threatening to fall off but then came some breathtaking performances and now we have the chance to power ahead. Psychologically it’s a massive boost and certainly demoralising for our rivals. Remember last year it was Manchester United’s involvement in the World Club Championship that was tipped to derail their season. Take one ill-judged Rafa rant on the facts, add a few draws and the result was a United team in the driving seat. Could history repeat itself this season?
One of the key factors to get the engine purring again was the chance to have a pit stop. After a busy Christmas period and a cancelled game in snowy Hull we had the chance not only to recharge the batteries but also have a look at the tactics board. Last season, after a similar bumpy period, we had no plan B to teams shutting up shop. Ancelotti’s a far more wily manager though than Big Phil and he deserves plaudits for his tactical acumen. Adding some width has helped stretch defences and, given the formation options, now teams have no idea whether to cover the middle of the park of fill the gaps on the flanks. The result has been awe-inspiring and long may it continue.
With the loss of the African players other members of the squad really needed to step to the plate and the most pleasing aspect of the last few results is that all of the squad have done just that. It’s difficult to single out any player but I’ve really been impressed by Flo Malouda. 2009 was the year his career turned around for the Blues and, although he has excelled in patches this season, the last month he has found the consistency and form to really make the difference. It’s a credit that players who have been in and out of the side have raised their game and a made a difficult month look like a breeze. Ballack and Lampard have left any midseason rustiness behind and have showed imperious movement, passing and goals. It’s worth checking out Ballack’s delicate slide pass to Anelka against Sunderland again, at his best he’s a majestic player. Add some great performances from Deco, Sturridge and Zhirkov and it feels like the squad has rarely been stronger.
Finally, when we look at players who have stepped up to the mantle, it’d be impossible not to mention Anelka. In truth he has been superb all season and after leading the line so well in Didier’s absence he may have a strong claim for individual awards at the end of the season. It’s nice to see him playing with a smile and, after a much travelled career, it looks like he’s found his club. Joe Cole has played for his boyhood club for a while now and his return to top form is another big reason why we’ve been unlocking defences. Rather than a token January signing all we’d like to see is these two put pen to paper so that they spend their best years plying their trade at Bridge. It’s bad enough seeing Eidur turn up at three point lane (how have they got room in their car park for all these forwards?) never mind Joe Cole. Roman – sign ‘em up please!