Magical Malouda has put Chelsea in box seat

Trevor Steven
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THREE weeks ago I thought Chelsea were going to throw the Premier League title away. Elimination from Europe was followed by a draw at Blackburn, and they looked short of confidence and mired in a poor pattern of play.

But they have surprised and impressed me with the way they have responded. Now they are in pole position, have rediscovered focus and fluidity and seem to have absolute belief that they’ll win the double.

Tuesday’s hard-fought win over Bolton was a major step towards winning the league. They didn’t play brilliantly but they did get the 1-0 they needed to stretch their lead at the top of the table.

Looking back, the turning point in the title race came on 3 April, when Carlo Ancelotti’s team went to Manchester United and beat their main rivals 2-1. Chelsea’s confidence was starting to return after thrashing Portsmouth and Aston Villa; United had just suffered a blip in their form at Bayern Munich.

Since then, the Blues have gone from strength to strength. The controversy surrounding John Terry has blown over and Yuri Zhirkov, who had seemed a bit lost, has been playing well at left-back.

The real revelation, however, has been Florent Malouda. The France winger has been affecting games, making things happen in tight matches, and his quality has been consistently high. He has been one of the players of the season.

United, meanwhile, have gone downhill, bowing out of Europe and dropping points in the league. Wayne Rooney’s absence has played a crucial part – he couldn’t get through a game without scoring before his injury – and his loss has exposed United’s weakness.

Chelsea have got some tricky games still to come, notably visits to Tottenham and Liverpool, but then so do United and Arsenal, and it’s a close call as to who has the easier run-in. I give the Blues the edge: you’d rather have points in the bag at this stage and they have the added carrot of the double.