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Jan 12, 2008

Anelka the key for dour Chelsea?

CHELSEA 2-0 TOTTENHAM

You always suspected Nicolas Anelka and Chelsea would seal their natural marriage at some stage.

The footballer whose mercenary tendencies may yet make him the first player to be transferred for a combined total of £100m was always likely to end up at the club whose determination to buy success has brought them so much manufactured joy in recent times.

Inevitably, Anelka claimed he would commit the rest of his career to Chelsea as he signed his latest contract on Friday, but not even his own mother would believe such a boast as once his average 18-month period of loyalty expires, he will engineer another reason to seal another big-money signing on fee elsewhere.

Arsenal, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Bolton have all tried and failed to nail down the game's ultimate goal machine, yet there are always going to be takers for a player whose record in front of goal at virtually all his clubs has been impressive; Even in a struggling Bolton side, Anelka scored goals aplenty in the Premier League this season.

While it is hard to like the Frenchman whose sulking tendencies have infuriated more than a few managers down the years maybe, at last, he has found the club where he can reserve a car parking space at the training ground for more than a few months. But don't bank on it.

Chelsea's solution to any problem in the last few years has been to entice star names into joining them with vast wages and the promise of riches beyond their wildest dreams.

Signing Anelka was yet another example of putting out a fire with some Russian loot as with Didier Drogba set to leave the club at the end of the season and Andriy Shevchenko, Salomon Kalou and Claudio Pizarro hardly likely to win the Blues anything of note on current form, a new striker was always going to be top of their shopping list in January.

Strong, quick and oozing the confidence only the top strikers show, this was a day when the two 'most wanted' forwards in the Premier League came head to head, yet the ever-depressing Chelsea boss Avram Grant didn't give the sell-out Stamford Bridge crowd a chance to see Anelka square off against Tottenham's Dimitar Berbatov.

Anelka didn't have time to train with his new team-mates ahead of this London derby, so his place on the bench seemed a sensible move. Still, after watching the ineffective Pizarro in action for the first 45 minutes, you had to wonder whether Grant may as well have unleashed his new signing from the off.

The visitors were marginally the better side in the first half of this game and had the clearer chances, but Chelsea have a remarkable habit of edging ahead in tight games like this and when Juliano Belletti unleashed his 19th minute shot towards goal, a familiar scenario befell Tottenham once again.

Paul Robinson has been blamed for many of the long-range shots that have flown into the Spurs net this season and last, but his replacement Radek Cerny could do little to keep out Belletti's power-packed shot that ripped into the top corner of his goal.

You could only admire the power and accuracy Belletti has found in his shot and it rocked a Tottenham side who had started the game with a purpose that suggested they had come to Stamford Bridge with believing they could cause an upset.

As ever, Chelsea are the masters of bursting any such ambition and even though Steed Malbranque was denied an equaliser by a fine save from the returning Petr Cech, the home side looked comfortable in snuffing out Tottenham's attacking threat.

With skipper Ledley King tightening up their woeful defence and enough attacking talent to trouble the best of opponents, Juande Ramos' side should have been a match an under-strength Chelsea side. Instead, they again looked inhibited against one of the Premier League's top four and their record against the best in this division suggests the first task for Ramos will be instilling a winning mentality into a team that accepts failure with too much ease.

As for Chelsea, their claim to have discovered the art of entertaining their supporters since they removed Jose Mourinho from the manager's seat has hardly been in evidence of late and this was another example of a grinding display.

Still without John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, the Blues can do little more than try to stumble through this difficult period and with a lead under their belts, Grant's men settled in for a dour afternoon and while the introduction of Anelka after 57 minutes brought the biggest cheer of the day, this was to be another one of those grinding Chelsea wins.

Anelka so nearly marked his arrival with a goal as his first shot in a Chelsea shirt brought a fine save out of Radek Cerny, though Tottenham looked more likely to score for most of the second half until Shaun Wright-Phillips killed them off with the game's decisive strike five minutes from time.

Then it was time for the event that ensures misery for all in attendance. Avram Grant's dreary press conferences are a more like post-mortems than victory celebrations and he used this one to promote the idea that he has revolutionised the Chelsea style of play.

'We can maintain a challenge in all four trophies and we are trying to do it with a positive approach,' stated Grant, who may be a little deluded if he thinks his dour team are playing the sort of thrilling football his paymasters demand.

'This is a different Chelsea to what you have seen before. We don't play any more long balls and always try to pass the ball. The team are creating more and more chances with good movement and quality passes.

'It's great to pick up another victory on a day when our rivals have dropped more points and we will continue to remain positive that we can challenge for four trophies this season.'

Tottenham boss Juande Ramos is equally uninspiring with his words, delivered through a translator once again. 'It was a very evenly balanced game, but this wasn't reflected in the score line as Chelsea grabbed two goals from outside the area,' stated the Spaniard. 'This was not a bad performance for us, but a bad result.'

Tottenham have a long way to go before they are major contenders for trophies again, but Chelsea's revival under Grant is reaping a much more rapid reward.

They may not be thrilling too many just now, but if they continue to win games while their stars are absent, Chelsea could just be champions come May.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ledley King
You only appreciate how good a player is when he is absent for a long period and King was at his serene best as he held the Spurs defence together.

FOOD WATCH: The beef curry was a little on the rich side, but the half-time chocolate cake went down a treat.

ANELKA VERDICT: He was only on the field for a little over half an hour, but it was enough to suggest this maverick will be a big hit at Chelsea. It could be that his signing turns out to be a crucial moment in a title race his new club are increasingly interested in.

• Email newsdesk@soccernet.com with your thoughts.