James Lawton: Majestic Malouda is the embodiment of Chelsea's progress under Ancelotti

I have a say

Posted Monday, August 30, 2010 by The Independent

James Lawton: Majestic Malouda is the embodiment of Chelsea's progress under Ancelotti

However clearly the new season is being held by the throat, it is probably something better to think than to say, but Nicolas Anelka says it anyway. He sounds like a man who has come to believe anything is possible.

"There are a lot of big teams in the Premier League," he declares, "but we will try to win every game. It's going to be difficult, yes, but [our] goals can come from anywhere. Yes, even if the scorer is on one side of the field and the second player is on the other, we try to switch it very quickly.

"If I don't score, Didier [Drogba] can score, if Didier doesn't score, Florent [Malouda] can score, and if nobody scores, Salomon [Kalou] can come and score."

Then, almost as an afterthought, he adds, "First of all, we have the ability not to concede a goal and almost every time we know we will score one. The most important thing is we come on the pitch and don't concede a goal – and after that we try to score. Also, for the team who come to play against Chelsea, they will be scared because if they don't do it, they know we will score."

So far this infant season Chelsea's extraordinary run of fertile attack and utterly sterilised defence has yet to crush a significant rival, but it is to the huge credit of Stoke, eviscerated 8-0 here last spring, that they came and fought with some nerve and courage, a performance best expressed by the drive from substitute Glenn Whelan that brought a shudder to Petr Cech as it crashed against his crossbar. However, nothing Stoke could do challenged the weight of Anelka's confidence. And nor should it have done.

Chelsea may not have been on song but they were, once again, making the most vital noises when it came to settling the business. Stoke may have imported some of the grit of the Potteries to the King's Road but in all the essentials it failed to obscure the vision of Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Some of us wondered about the point of Ancelotti, not his brilliant football pedigree but the value of bringing it to Stamford Bridge, where such contrasting but high-achieving luminaries as Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari had, one way or another, been hounded out of office. However, some of us undervalued, quite profoundly, as it is turning out, the ability of the man who operated so successfully for so long under the ownership of Silvio Berlusconi to create his own agenda – and values.

The result is a game of superb efficiency and economy which is also, at times, as aesthetically pleasing as any Roman Abramovich might have craved in the first, relentless march of Mourinho's team.

Stoke were right to leave here with their heads up, but then so was Tony Pulis when he generously conceded that Chelsea might have scored more than the two goals that eventually submerged a team which, while providing the usual barrage of long throws from Rory Delap, still managed to produce bouts of more than decently penetrating football.

Unfortunately for them, and now familiarly, Chelsea just happened to be operating on an entirely higher level. Frank Lampard missed a penalty and if Ashley Cole's brilliant shot had been a fraction lower and not brushed against the crossbar, Stoke might well have been contemplating another avalanche. As it developed, they managed to contain the best of Chelsea in the second half when, Ancelotti admitted, the tempo of the game dropped sharply, but if the fine goal of Malouda and the penalty of Drogba, after Anelka was brought down by Thomas Sorensen, were a relatively skimpy cushion, at least by recent standards, it was still comfortable enough.

Malouda, who sharply increased his goal production to 15 goals last season, remains the most glowing evidence of Chelsea's progress under Ancelotti. According to his countryman Anelka, the 30-year-old Frenchman is now deep into a remarkable phase of personal development. His goal, helped by John Terry's intervention and perfect delivery, was another celebration of Ancelotti's emphasis on powerfully controlled counter-attack.

Anelka agreed that the transformation of Malouda had been dramatic, saying, "He has been scoring more goals than in the past and now I think he wants to score more and more. He's been here three years so he has got used to it and gained more confidence and it is easy to see this on the pitch. He is intelligent, he can score – and he can assist. He is also very strong. So he has everything.

"We played in the national team together before he came here and we were already good mates. We have a good understanding. He is a normal sort of guy, but he is one of the livelier lads in the dressing room. It is difficult to come from the French league and straight away play for Chelsea. It's tough. The football is stronger, everything is quicker and you have to get some games in to get used to the English game. He knows it now. He is one of the best players already and with his determination to score more goals he can only get better."

Anelka has never advertised himself as one of football's most clubbable characters. It is well known that Drogba would not be his first choice for a desert island companion. Nor is he a natural-born cheerleader, but if there has been friction between him and Drogba – who is arguably playing the best football of his life, dynamic but also with a well-rounded awareness of precisely where his team-mates are making their moves – it is not visible on the pitch.

Certainly, it wasn't when Anelka failed to capitalise on a brilliant cross by the man from Ivory Coast. It was a brief breakdown in the flow of cohesion and did nothing to lessen the sense of a team that has grasped what must be, according to Ancelotti, the essentials of the highest success.

Was Anelka wise to discuss the possibility of unbroken triumph? Probably not, but if you are so vibrantly walking the walk, maybe at least a little of the talk is something less than an indictable offence.

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