Henry Winter: Florent Malouda sparkles in Chelsea's victory over Manchester United
The Special One had been the French winger's guiding light, the coach who brought him to the Bridge, who filled him with belief and suddenly he was gone. Only this season, responding to the paternal qualities of Carlo Ancelotti, has Malouda truly sparkled and he delivered an accomplished display here at Old Trafford yesterday that inched Chelsea closer to the Premier League trophy. When the history of the 2009-2010 season comes to be written, particularly if Chelsea maintain their momentum and progress to the title, much will be made of the sustained vibrancy of the waltzing Malouda, who has led many a defence a merry dance since being granted a broader attacking role by Ancelotti. Related ArticlesUnited reliant on golden oldiesManchester United 1 Chelsea 2Old Trafford man markingsFerguson fuming at match officialsMan Utd v Chelsea: as it happenedDebate: Has a linesman cost United the title?Malouda also seems a confidence player, whose performances have grown in stature as he felt more accepted by the Chelsea players. Packed with strong characters from John Terry to Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard to Michael Ballack, the Bridge dressing room cannot be an easy realm to enter and only now does Malouda feel fully at home. This more assertive personality finds a physical manifestation in a more muscular upper body; judging by the way Nemanja Vidic bounced off him at one point, Malouda has been in the gym. Nobody, not even a strapping Serb, was going to knock Malouda out of his stride and certainly not a short English midfielder. When Paul Scholes flew in with customary lack of subtlety, Malouda hurdled the challenge, managing to keep his footing and taking the attempted clattering as a compliment. Ignoring the raised studs, Malouda willingly took responsibility on Saturday, as he has so often in 2010, creating Chelsea's opener with a powerful, pacy drive down the inside-left channel, shaking off Antonio Valencia and outrunning Darren Fletcher before crossing for Joe Cole's fine flicked finish. Chelsea fans loved Malouda's excellence and their team's supremacy, managing to mock the subdued mood and yellow-and-green scarves of the home fans in one chant. 'No noise from the Norwich boys,'' they sang. Until the Stretford End cranked up the volume in the second half they seemed stunned into silence by Malouda. Before the break, Malouda was a fast-moving nightmare for United as he kept twisting, turning and suddenly accelerating. 'He's fantastic, such an explosive player,'' enthused Ancelotti. 'He worked hard, has improved his strength and played with intensity.'' Intensity. United had no answer to this quality of Chelsea and Malouda in particular. One of the players of the year, who deserves consideration on the Professional Footballers' Association shortlist, Malouda contributed admirably defensively. Moments after fashioning Cole's goal, Malouda could be found at right-back dispossessing Dimitar Berbatov. A modest man who thinks deeply about football, Malouda observed that Chelsea were assisted by having a week without a draining European trip. 'When you play Champions League in midweek [as United did at Bayern Munich], you give a lot of energy,'' said Malouda, whose workload was eased by Mourinho's Inter Milan. 'That's why we started the game so quick. We knew if we could keep the game at high intensity they would have some problems.'' United raised their tempo after the interval but, painfully missing Wayne Rooney, they lacked anyone offering the touch and exuberance of Chelsea's No? 15. Malouda certainly encapsulated the work ethic, tactical acumen and team-mindedness that Ancelotti seeks at Chelsea. This victory strengthens further the Italian's position. His decision to keep Drogba on the bench for an hour was totally vindicated. Drogba didn't complain, simply knuckling down to warming up and being ready when required. 'Didier fully understood,'' said Malouda of his good friend from their days at Guingamp. 'The way Didier reacted was perfect.'' Sensing the shifting tide, Ancelotti acted shrewdly, introducing Drogba for Anelka to keep United deep and Salomon Kalou for Cole to check the threatening Patrice Evra. When Kalou then set up Drogba for Chelsea's second, it had proved a masterstroke by Ancelotti, although United were vexed by the linesman's failure to flag for an obvious offside. After Federico Macheda pulled one back, giving United brief hope of an undeserved point, Chelsea readily resorted to the cynical to run the clock down. Ballack came on and kicked the ball away to help preserve Chelsea's new status as favourites for the Premier League. If Malouda and company do progress to the title, none of their rivals can complain. If they prevail at Anfield, Chelsea will have taken all 18 points from Liverpool, Arsenal and United. In the heavyweight division, and Manchester knew all about that on Saturday, particularly with David Haye marching across the pitch before kick-off, Chelsea reign supreme. 'It's going to be real difficult,'' replied Malouda when asked about Chelsea becoming champions. 'If we play as we did today, we have a big possibility but it's going to be very hard.' With Malouda in such flying form, and a managerial father figure in Ancelotti leading them, Chelsea are closing on their title.
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