A six-game winless streak is over for Chelsea, as the Blues recovered from a lacklustre first half to subdue Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge. Florent Malouda's sidefooted goal secured victory for Chelsea, and although there were a few dangerous chances created by the opposition the end of the match was surprisingly easy, with the home side weathering everything Bolton threw at them without too many problems. In fact, Chelsea looked far more likely to scored again than giving up an equaliser - in the second half Didier Drogba hit the post, Michael Essien had a shot cleared off the line, and Branislav Ivanovic missed an open goal with a flying header.
The win didn't look like happening for the first 45 minutes, despite Carlo Ancelotti making several changes to his lineup from the Arsenal debacle. A fit-again Nicolas Anelka replaced Salomon Kalou, Jose Bosingwa started at left-back, and Ramires made a rare start in the Chelsea midfield, leaving John Obi Mikel with no spot on the squad - the Nigerian didn't even make the substitute's bench. Instead of galvanising the team, the inclusion of Anelka and Bosingwa seemed to actively hurt it - Anelka's movement was dire throughout the game and Bosingwa made a host of errors, one of which very nearly led to Matt Taylor opening the scoring. Only Ramires looked comfortable, and he slotted seamlessly into a midfield three that looked solid for the first time in months.
It was fortunate that the midfielders were having a good half, as nobody else played with anything approaching basic competence (with the exception of John Terry, who was excellent). The fullbacks couldn't pass, the forwards couldn't run, and when they did they were offside anyway. Bolton had two or three good attempts at goal, whereas Chelsea didn't even register a half-chance against Juri Jaaskelainen in the game's opening 45 minutes. Chelsea's match - and indeed, their last two months - was epitomised by an absolute howler of a free kick from Drogba, who faced with a dead ball 30 yards out and ready to be swung towards the back post punted his 'shot' out for a throw-in. Meanwhile Terry was forced into a series of crucial blocks as Bolton looked to press home their early advantage.
When Chelsea left the field for the break, they did so to a chorus of boos. It's hard to blame the boobirds. The home fans had seen enough of their side sleepwalking through games and they have every right to vent their displeasure. I can't imagine that the reaction from the crowd was any worse than what came out of Carlo Ancelotti's mouth in the dressing room, though. Whatever he said, it worked. Chelsea made no personnel changes, nor did they tweak their shapes. Instead, they simply sprung to life. Michael Essien went from an adequate first half performance to a superhuman second, bulldozing his way through Bolton's centre to set up the goal. Didier Drogba was more assured, more powerful, and more intelligent. Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda started weaving their magic on the left rather than simply passing the ball into touch. It wasn't Chelsea at their best, but it was Chelsea significantly better than they have been.
Within three minutes Chelsea should have taken the lead thanks to excellent vision by Frank Lampard, who picked Drogba out in the penalty box only for the Ivorian to crash a shot against the far post with Jaaskelainen well beaten. Essien, who spent most of the second half driving forwards, then played a deft one-two with his midfield partner before ignoring better options and going for goal himself from a dubious position with unsurprising consequences. The breakthrough was coming, though, and the man to provide it was the hitherto anonymous Malouda, who had the simplest of finishes into an empty net after Drogba squared the ball for him in the area. Essien, however, was the prime creator of the goal, shrugging off two players during a surging run and brilliantly passing for Drogba, who was just about onside. That wasn't the end of Chelsea's chances, though - Ashley Cole had a shot from the edge of the box parried around the post and Michael Essien had a header from a corner cleared off the line, with Branislav Ivanovic just about failing to keep the rebound on target with the goal gaping. Chelsea were particularly dominant in the closing ten minutes, generating more good play in that time than they did in the entirety of the first half - by a considerable margin.
This isn't to say that Bolton were pushovers. They had several chances in the second half, both from midfielder Stuart Holden, who, despite being manhandled in his midfield battles against Ramires and Essien managed to pose a few questions for Petr Cech and John Terry. His thunderous shot soon after Malouda had opened the scoring struck Terry's hand and bounced to safety with the referee denying the visitors' frantic penalty appeals, and Cech was later forced to acrobatically tip over a goal-bound header which the American had done very well to keep on target. The penalty shout really could have gone either way, and had Chelsea conceded it would have been a huge blow to their hopes of emerging with all three points. It wasn't to be for Bolton, however, and despite their bright play they didn't really deserve to get anything out of the game. Coyle's team failed to capitalise on their earlier superiority to find an opening goal and wasted the few chances they generated in the second half.
For Chelsea, it was a game well won, and a massive turnaround after the first half and indeed the previous eight games. If they can build on this match heading into Sunday's clash against Aston Villa, they have a real shout of getting back into the Premier League race.
Oh, and I promised puppies if we won.