Ancelotti enchanted as Anelka rejoins elite

Bolton Wanderers 0 Chelsea 4
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Getting a winning manager to name his best player tends to be impossible without the kind of dental treatment handed out to Dustin Hoffman's character in Marathon Man. Remarkably, Carlo Ancelotti coughed up the name of Nicolas Anelka without anyone reaching for a drill.

Furthermore, he did it rather poetically. Anelka, he said, may not have the strongest personality in the game but his "interpretation" of play was, well, perfect; "the best".

It sounded a bit like something that might have been said by the man for whom Ancelotti's tribute will surely open up an ancient wound – Arsène Wenger.

Anelka, after all, made a substantial contribution to the Arsenal manager's reputation for talent-spotting genius. Wenger's theft of the teenager from Paris Saint-Germain in 1997 and then the quick and massive profit when he was sold on to Real Madrid two years later is rightly regarded as one of the all-time transfer market coups. Yet, wound it must remain for Wenger.

Anyone who doubts this should have been at Middlesbrough shortly before Anelka went to the Bernabeu. The troubled, introspective boy – he was just 20 – destroyed the home team quite majestically in a 6-1 thumping and pride seemed to ooze from every pore of the Svengali who said: "Sometimes you mustn't claim credit for recognising great talent because there are occasions when it just announces itself. Nicolas Anelka is going to be a great player – and I think anyone who saw him today would agree."

Ten years on and seven clubs later, including the one he was turning to matchwood on Saturday, Anelka may finally be putting more than a little flesh on the bones of that statement.

Ancelotti's tribute was all the more remarkable because he wasn't exactly short of candidates for extreme praise.

Didier Drogba's terrifying presence panicked Jlloyd Samuel into conceding a penalty – and receiving a red card – that marked the end of Bolton's game resistance on the stroke of half-time.

Aside from producing an exquisite goal, Deco looked much more the player who was at the heart of Jose Mourinho's Champions League triumph with Porto five years ago. Frank Lampard was quietly relentless while scoring the penalty that reminded us that he has victimised the superb Jussi Jaaskelainen more than any other Premier League goalkeeper, a fact he almost underlined when his shot crashed against the underside of the crossbar and threatened to lift it on to a neighbouring moor.

Yet in all this formidable performance you just could not keep your eyes off the yellow boots of the man who for so long threatened to leave football as he entered it, a luminous talent but also an often obscure enigma. Here, though, he was no more enigmatic than a gust of wind. His sense of space and time not only thrilled Ancelotti but inspired his team-mates.

Lampard announced that, in his opinion, Drogba was the greatest striker in the world, better even than Fernando Torres, but he also had to say Anelka was currently occupying the same rung of class, if not modus operandi.

He said: "Who knows who will score more, Drogba or Torres? They are both top strikers but for me Didier is the best in the world because of his all-round game and the form he is in. Everyone talks about his power, but maybe they don't give him the credit he deserves for his finishing. At times it is simply different class, with his head and his foot. Yes, he is the best I've ever played with and I believe he is the best in the world.

"Will he top 33 goals? Who knows? The thing about him is that he is a very unselfish player. A lot of things get said about him but what we know in the camp is that he gives everything for the team. He's had a lot of assists this year, which shows he is not just interested in scoring goals."

A soaring accolade for Drogba, no doubt, but it is one that does nothing to diminish the status of the man who operates beside him with increasing bite and vision.

Lampard added: "Nico has been fantastic all season – and he was last season, too. His pace is as quick as I've seen in people, he has great dribbling ability and when he runs at people he puts fear into them. In training every day of the week and in games he is so cool when he's one-on-one on the keeper. Didier's one of the best in the world and we're fortunate to have another in Nico. When he plays wide, he gives so many problems to the opposing team. He drifts out like Thierry Henry used to do."

Anelka, Henry? It's just as well for Wenger's sensitivities that Ashley Cole was out through injury and denied the chance to augment his currently blistering form. Otherwise it might have taken more than his side's brisk destruction of Tottenham to distract the Arsenal manager from a gloomy reflection on the scale of lost treasures.

As it is, the authority with which Chelsea have snapped back from defeats at Wigan and Aston Villa must be disconcerting enough for Wenger and Ancelotti's only other serious threat to his hopes for a Premier League title at the first attempt, Sir Alex Ferguson. As encouraging for the Italian as the quality of individual performances was surely the vigour with which each one of his troops reported for duty at a ground which once had a reputation for intimidating London softies with ideas above their station. There were no deserters this day.

Long before the end Bolton were powerless and afterwards their manager, Gary Megson, sighed while stating a fact that had become not much less than searing. "Any team finishing above Chelsea will win the title," he said.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Ricketts, Knight, Cahill, Samuel; Basham (Robinson, h-t), Muamba (M Davies, 65), Lee (Gardner, h-t), Cohen; Elmander, K Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), O'Brien, Taylor, Steinsson.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Ferreira; Ballack, Essien, Deco, Lampard; Anelka, Drogba. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), J Cole, Malouda, Sturridge, Alex, Belletti, Borini.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Bolton Robinson; Chelsea Ferreira.

Sent off: Samuel (45).

Man of the match: Anelka.

Attendance: 22,680.