Chelsea 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0: Anelka cameo puts Chelsea in good heart for title challenge

Debutant only defied by crossbar as Blues cruise to keep step with United
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The Independent Football

A match as much about one man as the remainder on parade, even though he sat hunched in woolly hat and protective gear for nearly an hour. And for once that individual was not Dimitar Berbatov, but another master of predatory skills. After 53 minutes, he began warming up.

The crowd rose to applaud the player given the squad number 39. That opportunity was something of a rarity for them yesterday, because up until then there had been precious little else to persuade them to do so.

By the 58th minute he was on, and though Nicolas Anelka did not quite open his Chelsea career with a goal – though so nearly did when following a superb back-heel from Shaun Wright-Phillips, he swivelled and forced a splendid save from Radek Cerny and later hit the bar – he did enough to confirm just why he is here.

"You could not ask for more," was the succinct observation of his manager, Avram Grant. However, the Israeli admitted that his pricey acquisition, signed from Bolton Wanderers on Friday for £15m, and whose aggregate transfer fees of around £85m make him the most expensive player ever, was only on the bench because of the shortage of forwards available to him – Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are at the African Nations Cup and Andriy Shevchenko is injured.

"Normally, he [Anelka] wouldn't have been in the squad because he hasn't trained with the players. But he adapted very quickly to the style of this team."

After a match comfortably won with goals in each half, from Juliano Belletti and Wright-Phillips, who is thriving in a more central midfield role, no one should rule out Chelsea's claim to the championship.

It had all been a decidedly sedate opening for a London derby. Claudio Pizarro, supported wide by Florent Malouda and Joe Cole, and with Michael Ballack and Wright-Phillips tucked in behind, worked hard to breach a Spurs rearguard which still appears fragile at times, even with the return of captain Ledley King. But it was all to no avail until, after 18 minutes, Belletti decided to turn the heat up.

The defender advanced into the visitors' half, Tottenham obligingly retreated before him, and from 30 yards he struck a devilish shot high and wide of Cerny, playing in place of Paul Robinson. The England goalkeeper, with his Spurs' future clearly in doubt, was again dropped to the substitutes' bench by the manager, Juande Ramos, who refused to attribute that opener to Cerny.

"Goals are conceded by the team as a whole," he said. It is becoming a familiar refrain. Spurs, who had not won in 20 League and Cup visits here, had their moments, though you struggle to recall them. Aaron Lennon looked particularly threatening against his fellow England team-mate, Ashley Cole and it was the midfielder, who fashioned an opportunity for Steed Malbranque with a deep cross. Cerny's compatriot, Petr Cech, returning after recovering from a hip injury, saved well.

We had to wait for the spice anticipated from a fixture of this nature until after the interval, though Kevin-Prince Boateng stirred the home crowd after an attempted rugby tackle on Joe Cole for which he was cautioned.

By the end, Malbranque, Jamie O'Hara and Lennon had also been yellow-carded for Spurs and Claude Makelele and captain Ballack for the hosts. The last-named had brought down Lennon inches outside the area, only for Berbatov to dispatch the free-kick over Cech's bar. It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulgarian and Spurs. This was a poor exhibition from Ramos's men, and his claim that it was "very evenly balanced" was a refusal to recognise reality.

Ten minutes from time, the Blues confirmed their win. Joe Cole took a throw-in from Belletti in his stride, and teased the Tottenham defence before feeding Wright-Phillips, who unhesitatingly drove the ball home from just outside the area. In the closing minutes, Anelka pounced on an error, to thump the ball against the bar. He could afford to smile. As Grant and Chelsea could last night.