Club Focus – Chelsea – Imperious Blues appear team to beat after confident start

Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea head the competition again after nine games and almost a quarter of the way through the season, their early form suggests they may get their hands on the trophy again come May.

The Blues have opened up a five point lead at the top of the table as their rivals have faltered at times, as well as hitting the ground running themselves – winning seven out of nine games so far this season, victorious by a minimum two-goal margin in each match. Goals have been flying in from all over for Chelsea, with 25 goals in the league this season, in spite of failing to score in consecutive away games – the two games in which points were dropped, a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City and their goalless stalemate at Aston Villa. French winger Florent Malouda leads the way as the Premier League’s top goal scorer with seven goals, closely followed by the Ivorian pair Didier Drogba (six) and Salomon Kalou (five).

Despite an early exit in the Carling Cup at the hands of Newcastle United, beaten 4-3 in a classic cup tie at Stamford Bridge, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have looked impressive domestically and abroad, making a perfect start in Europe too. After three Champions League ties and three wins, all without the suspended then injured Drogba, the Blues have taken a big stride towards another appearance in the knockout stages as they look to break their long Champions League duck.

Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Ancelotti and fans’ favourite Drogba have made the shortlist for the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or and Coach of the Year awards respectively, with the winners to be announced on January 10 2011. Ancelotti joined the London club in summer 2008 and enjoyed immediate success in his first season at the helm, breaking Manchester United’s three-year stranglehold on the Premier League by wresting the title back to Stamford Bridge, as well as leading Chelsea to their third FA Cup in four seasons – in doing so completing the first League-Cup double in the club’s history. The Blues success owed a big debt to the fantastic return of Ivorian centre-forward Drogba, who found the net an incredible 37 times in 40 starts in all competitions. His goals made all the difference in the victorious league campaign and he hit the winning goal at Wembley as Chelsea triumphed 1-0 over Portsmouth in the FA Cup final. There was no place on the players’ list for Frank Lampard, overlooked despite scoring over 20 goals as a midfielder for a fifth consecutive season, although the Englishman does represent a club best at bygone d’Or awards ceremonies, finishing runner-up in 2005 to then-Barcelona star Ronaldinho.

Ancelotti goes up against former Blues boss Jose Mourinho, who led Inter Milan to Champions League glory as part of a treble-winning season in his final year in Italy before joining Real Madrid this summer. Drogba’s former teammate, Dutch winger Arjen Robben – a two-time Premier League champion during his time at Chelsea between 2004 and 2007, and now at beaten Champions League finalists Bayern Munich – is also on the players’ shortlist.

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