Club Focus – Chelsea – Zola needs a Chelsea favour

A 2-1 victory reinstates the Londoners three point lead at the top but individual performances created more difficulties than predicted against a struggling Portsmouth side. The return of Avram Grant conjured up a respectful reception from the Blues faithful, staff and players. But make no mistakes both were out to stab the opposition’s targeted chances of Premier League glory and Premier League survival respectively.

Michael Ballack’s lack of enthusiasm was unexplainable this Wednesday, unwilling to put in a gritty Michael Essien type shift the midfielder was insistent on wondering aimlessly in the middle of the park reluctant to break sweat. Deco remained dormant throughout the mid-week ventures and was unable to work into the game – as once again the fast paced closing down of the English League prevented the Portuguese midfielder from functioning accordingly. Salomon Kalou’s performance was dire as the Ivorian missed a number of inexcusable chances at this level. The long serving (as far as Chelsea players go) Blue has been on the fringe of the Chelsea starting XI ever since joining the club and although his efforts are not unnoticed, his finishing and final delivery certainly are. While the likes of Aaron Lennon, Cristiano Ronaldo and possibly Antonio Valencia have all had their final deliveries criticised since coming into the spotlight, these players have the ability to skin a defender, create a moment of magic and innate blistering pace that is unbearable for their opposition. Contrary to this Kalou is relatively easy to deal with as the Portsmouth backline proved Wednesday night. The striker/winger has a few skills in his locker but nothing that hasn’t been pre-match noted for and his predictable, lacklustre style is starting to wear thin at the Bridge. Despite a win the trio of Michael Ballack, Salomon Kalou and Deco provided strong evidence for Ancelotti’s need to delve into the January Market with both short and long term reasoning.

Deco and Kalou’s imminent replacements came in the shape of Joe Cole and young prospect Fabio Borini. Ancelotti put real faith in the 18-year-old striker – with the scores drawn at one a piece, the master tactician employed raw talent and energy ahead of an experienced head such as Yury Zhirkov. Borini showed good awareness in the latter stages of the game as he rounded the helpless Asmir Begovic only to slide the ball inches wide across the face of goal from a tight angle. Joe Cole presented the Blues with an outlet – able to run with the ball glued to his feet yet still encompassing the abilities to pick a Deco-esc ball. Although Florent Malouda made no immediate impact after entering the fray the midfielder offers natural width and someone for the likes of Frank Lampard to launch a 60-yard pass on auto-pilot direct to the Frenchman’s feet. A gloomy performance all in all but a result that stabilises Chelsea’s position at the top and the crucial three point lead has been restored.

A London derby will be fought out this Sunday as the Pensioners travel the short distance to the Boleyn Ground (Upton Park) and if Grant’s reception was duly respected, Gianfranco Zola’s appraisal will set the Blue side of Upton Park alight. The former Chelsea no. 25 (shirt now withdrawn from circulation) was voted Chelsea’s greatest ever player in 1997 alongside Football Writers Player of the Year and although the Italian enjoyed his best years of football at the Bridge he has never needed a favour from them more than Sunday. West Ham after losing 3-1 to Bolton are in desperate need of all three points this weekend as Championship shadows loom large over another well renowned Premier League side.

Former Hammers Frank Lampard and Joe Cole will need to refrain from dwelling on the past and sound out likely taunts from the East Londoners, as it is imperative Chelsea amend their poor away form.

Many transfers have been made between the two Londoners but the Blues will be best pleased to see the Hammer goal machine Carlton Cole unable to return against his former club. The West Ham front two of Guille Franco and Alessandro Diamanti are unlikely to create too many problems for John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho to nullify. With West Ham unlikely to pose great threat from set plays the Blues should walk away with the points although old managers always have that certain sparkle that may sting Chelsea hearts this weekend.

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