A total of 17 goals scored and none conceded in their last four game is a formidable record for any side; for an ageing team that cannot sign players or defend set-pieces, it borders on miraculous.
Here, the west Londoners showed that even when they are being matched, they can find a way ton ruthlessly rack up the goals at a canter. Even when their much-discussed diamond looked like it was being matched, they still managed to create the opening that led to the game’s key incident.
If fine movement and passing from Deco and Michael Ballack had not sent Didier Drogba through in first-half stoppage time, Jlloyd Samuel would not have had to pull the Ivorian down, leading to a red card and a penalty that was dispatched by Frank Lampard.
But despite the four goals and three points another visit to Lancashire raised questions about Carlo Ancelotti’s formation. A 4-2-3-1 helped Wigan dismantle the Londoners at the end of September and Bolton manager Gary Megson also had something up his sleeve against Chelsea.
Bolton normally employ a five-man midfield, which is far more inventive than many give them credit for but, having lost 4-0 in the Carling Cup at Stamford Bridge in midweek, Megson went man to man in the central area and challenged his players to take the fight to their more illustrious opponents.
It worked until Chelasea’s opener because the Blues were without both Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa and, having clogged up the central area, Bolton were happy for right back Branislav Ivanovic, who is a really a centre-back, and left-back Paulo Ferreira, who is really a right-back, to have the ball.
If fit, Cole and Bosingwa will both play against Manchester United next weekend and Chelsea need them because without their width, there are definite flaws in the shape.
“They’ve got all their players in an area where if you don’t match them up you’re going to have a problem with one of them because they’re world class,” Megson said.
“In doing what we did, the full-backs are a little bit easier to find but they’re not going to cause you as much trouble as Ballack and Lampard.”
Some interesting advice for Alex Ferguson, perhaps, and Ancelotti admits his side has scope for improvement.
“We have to think we can do better so we maintain a good motivation and concentration in our work,” Ancelotti said. “We have the perfect balance at the moment but the most difficult thing is to maintain it.’’
The Italian also claimed that he was not thinking beyond tomorrow’s Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid but the fact that he did not make a single substitution at Bolton suggests he was keeping his fringe players fresh for action in Spain so that his regulars can be ready for United.
“We’re in a very good moment,” he added. “Sooner or later we had to play Manchester United. It’s a good moment but my mind is not on Manchester United, it’s Atletico Madrid. The best way to go into the game against United is with the right motivation and concentration, not too much pressure. We’re not thinking about United at the moment.”
Lampard does not feel the need to be quite so diplomatic when he examines Chelsea’s current form and refuses to play down the significance of next Sunday’s match, where he hopes to extend a two-point advantage.
“We’re just playing well as a unit,” he said. “We had a little word with ourselves after the Villa match and wanted to bounce back instantly. You can see from the results we’ve done that. I don’t think anyone will need to work hard to get up for the United game. We’ll try and put some space between us and them at the top.
“We’re in good form, very good form and that shows in the results – but there’s room for improvement, there always is. Any moment of slacking either on the training ground or in our preparations and that form will quickly go away. So we’ll keep trying to improve and hopefully we can get even better.’’
Re-watching the first half at the Reebok stadium will only have reinforced that view as Bolton matched Chelsea stride for stride and chance for chance but the hosts were cut open in the decisive move just before the interval.
Deco and Ballack worked the room for Drogba to surge through and his run was halted by a trip from Samuel. There is little disguising the dislike Bolton have for referee Peter Walton and Megson’s claim that “with penalties and Peter Walton and Bolton, there’s only one outcome” could get him into a bit of trouble.
Lampard made no mistake from the spot and a sweeping break from Nicolas Anelka allowed Deco to cut inside and guide the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen for a second before Zat Knight’s own-goal made it three and Lampard flicked on for Drogba to volley in a lovely fourth.
Four goals, three points and they can still do better.
Manchester United beware.
REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire) 6. Got the key decision right and Gary Megson’s claim that the penalty was contentious does not make sense.
MATCH RATING: **** Really entertaining. Chelsea continue to plot a smooth course and it was great to see Bolton really have a go only to be picked off once they were down to 10 men.