The Definition Of A Must-Win Game

It might be slightly premature to make such claims about a match, but as Bolton visit Stamford Bridge tonight, one thing is clear.

As the Premier League season reaches the midway mark, Chelsea’s 19th fixture of the campaign carries more significance and importance than any which has gone before it.

Sure, there have been tougher opponents, but with 2010 drawing to an end, Carlo Ancelotti and company must draw on the vast successes of the calendar year in an attempt to turn around the club’s roughest patch of form for well over a decade.

Bottom of the form table after Fulham’s victory at Stoke yesterday, the Blues have just one domestic win since October, when a solitary Michael Essien goal beat their West London neighbours before the Ghanaian was sent off in stoppage time.

A spiralling run of form has seen no more than one goal in any fixture, and the club has dropped into fifth place, something almost unthinkable even just a few weeks ago.

It could get worse. Owen Coyle’s Trotters arrive at the Bridge in their loftiest league position since Sam Allardyce’s reign, but by virtue of playing some of the finest football in the country this season.

A win for the visitors will see them leapfrog the defending champions, leaving Chelsea outside of the automatic European qualification spots.

The good news for the hosts is that they historically fare very well against the Lancashire outfit, and are unbeaten in fourteen consecutive matches against them going back to the 2003-04 season.

In three meetings last season, Chelsea recorded nine goals without reply, including two 4-0 victories. In the only tie against Coyle, a header from Nicolas Anelka secured three crucial late season points in easily the trickiest of the trifecta of matches.

Coyle’s troops have had the benefit of a slightly longer recovery period from the Boxing Day slate, having beaten West Brom 2-0 at the Reebok Stadium. However, the camp has been struck by tragedy after the death of the father of midfielder Tamir Cohen – former Liverpool and Rangers midfielder Avi -yesterday.

Ancelotti is unlikely to have any faces return from injury and must therefore work with the same matchday squad which fell apart at Arsenal.

Nicolas Anelka’s knee problem is likely to keep him sidelined along with longer-term absentees Alex, Yury Zhirkov and Yossi Benayoun.

Against an opponent which the club secured one title against and all but finalised another, a return to that sort of form will be most welcome.