James Lawton: After the midwinter malaise Drogba has Chelsea looking menacing again

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The Independent Football

There is surely nothing more thrilling in football, as in life, than a sense of renewal, that maybe the show isn't over, perhaps you can still find some of the best of yourself. It's great to see it, even better to feel it.

This means that you have to be burrowed deep, too deep, in the partisan trenches not to be exhilarated by clear signs of a successful resuscitation of Chelsea.

Yes, it's true they are not the easiest club to love. The sense of entitlement to success on the basis of random wealth, the brimming arrogance that in someone like John Terry so often overflows, the idea that for Roman Abramovich the team is a toy to be picked up and put down according to mood, the crudity of the sacking of Ray Wilkins, and the accompanying humiliation of Carlo Ancelotti, none of it spreads a warm glow.

However, what happened at Bolton on Monday night certainly did.

It was created by the sight of a team, an extremely good team that not so long ago looked as if they were going to terrorise the Premier League for a second straight season and be the ones everyone had to beat in Europe, playing again, really playing.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle said there was never a four-goal difference between the sides, but he couldn't have been looking when the vital business was done. Where it mattered, Chelsea had time and space again and Didier Drogba, with his superman goal, suggested powerfully that the malarial chills belonged to another lifetime. He looked, as he has done in this challenging arena before, like a man who could do anything, whose very presence was just about the last word in intimidation.

However, the man you felt most pleased for was the recently dour Ancelotti. A couple more performances like this and he may well reacquire some of his old drollery. It would certainly have been the greatest sadness of a sustained Chelsea free fall if it had taken down a football man of such distinction, an operator of great calmness and civility and puckish humour.

Mostly, Ancelotti's style has survived the appalling possibility that for the first time in a career which has seen four triumphs, two each as a player and a coach, in the Champions League he would prove incapable of turning back the worst possibilities of a team falling apart.

The worst catastrophe of his career, no doubt, was his failure to cut dead the hubris which so notoriously flooded his Milan dressing room after Maldini and company had run up a three-goal lead over Liverpool in the Champions League final. Two years later, in Athens, he was able to move beyond that personal horror and reverse the result but just a few weeks ago there had to be far heavier odds against his chances of turning Chelsea around.

He is still in a long-shot position, seven points behind Manchester United having played an extra game, but six of the points can be retrieved in head-to-head battle and this week the postponement of the December game at Stamford Bridge suddenly seems like an additional blessing.

United and Arsenal have issued hints of increased authority, Manchester City may one day soon decide it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees, and, who knows? Spurs may just find some late inspiration in the 50th anniversary of a superb Double season.

These are not the most unreasonable of expectations but, for a day or two at least, all pales beside the possibility that the real Chelsea are back.



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