The two sides of Nicolas Anelka

By Jonathan Wilson, DPA,

London : Sometimes a team’s greatest strength can be its greatest weakness. Nicolas Anelka has scored 12 Premier League goals for Chelsea this season, making him the top-scorer in the division by four.

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But a curious fact about the distribution of those goals perhaps reveals a greater truth about Chelsea’s true strength this season, and explains their comparatively disappointing home form.

Just one of those 12 goals has been the first of a game, an unusual but perhaps not meaningless scoring pattern – particularly when it is considered that the one goal he scored that was the first of the game, in the 2-0 win away at Blackburn Rovers, was deflected in inadvertently off his knee.

Two possible explanations present themselves.

Perhaps Anelka, who is so noted for his moodiness that he is nicknamed “Le Sulk”, does not have the mental strength to score the goals that really matter.

Or perhaps the issue is tactical. “The classic Anelka goal,” Sam Allardyce, who was Anelka’s manager at Bolton, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), “is him running at defenders from outside the box, or playing the ball through the defence for him to run onto.

“He’s the master of one on ones with the goalkeeper. You have to play differently with Anelka to how you would play with Didier Drogba,” he said.

In other words, he needs the game to be stretched, as it is after Chelsea have taken a lead and the opposition are chasing the game, operating with a higher defensive line.

In the 1-1 draw against Bordeaux in the Champions League, Anelka did score the opening goal, but it served only to strengthen the theory.

Bordeaux had stifled their opponents and, with a little over an hour played, were beginning to believe they might actually win the game.

They pushed up, and were caught out by midfielder Frank Lampard playing the ball in behind them for Anelka to run onto.

Defend deep against Chelsea, though, and those chances do not materialise.

That, of course, is precisely what most away teams try to do at Stamford Bridge – whereas at home they still feel some onus to attack.

And that is why Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle United in the Premier League, and Roma and CFR Cluj in the Champion League, have been able, to some extent, to frustrate Chelsea.

Even Championship side Burnley managed it in the League Cup, drawing 1-1 and winning on penalties.

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari insists the statistic is not one that worries him. “When you score a goal for me it’s very good,” he told reporters.

“Sometimes he makes a mistake in front of goal, sometimes no, but he’s our best scorer this season.cHe works for the team. If there is a chance for him to score, OK. If not, and we win, and he works hard, he is happy and I am happy.”

The trouble is that recently Chelsea have not been winning: in fact they have won only one of their last five games.

It is also telling that of Chelsea’s 10 Premier League wins, only one has been by a single goal.

They are great when they go ahead, and Anelka can tear the opposition apart on the break; less effective in tight games.

And it is that that could end up costing them. Titles are not one by romps alone.