Florent Malouda stopped short of sparking one of the deepest crises of French football history at the World Cup finals. He left that to his Chelsea team-mate Nicolas Anelka. The midfielder's tournament, nonetheless, qualified as tumultuous, what with his bust-up with the coach Raymond Domenech, hearing his commitment questioned and being dropped twice from the starting line-up.
A summer that had promised so much for Malouda, after his 15 goals and prominent role in Chelsea's Double season, was reduced to bitter frustration and Carlo Ancelotti said the player had been "angry" when he returned for pre-season training. Chelsea's Italian manager had meant to say Malouda looked "hungry", but he quickly decided that both words fitted the bill.
Malouda has begun the season like a man determined to show his worth, and his rampaging performance against a Stoke City team still without a point was embellished by a fourth goal in three games. "Malouda is one of our best players right now," Ancelotti said. "He wanted to improve on his poor performances at the World Cup and I think he is doing very well. It is a good motivation to come back and be excited to play with Chelsea."
Anelka said that Malouda is one of the "livelier lads" in the dressing-room, and that he enjoyed the role as the team's unofficial DJ. Malouda's reggae belts out every day, according to Anelka, while his dance moves lift the mood. It is principally his development over the past year or so, however, that has served to establish the Frenchman as one of the squad's leaders.
"This is his fourth season at the club so he's got used to it and he has more confidence on the pitch," Anelka said. "It's difficult to come from the French league and, straight away, play for Chelsea. It's tough in England, everything is quicker. But now he knows the English league. He is one of the best. He has everything."
Chelsea might have inflicted another humiliating scoreline on their opponents had Frank Lampard not missed his third penalty in a row for club and country. Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou spurned chances. Cole also hit the crossbar with a sumptuous volley.
But Chelsea's power and intensity was such that the result never felt in doubt, despite Stoke's sporadic threat. Jon Walters went close in the first-half, Matthew Etherington had a shot cleared by Drogba and Glenn Whelan hit the bar from 25 yards.
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, was hopeful of making four new signings before the closure of the transfer window while he is also trying to keep the reserve goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic, out of Chelsea's clutches. The London club have had a bid of £4.5m rejected. Pulis saluted the work ethic and positive attitude of his players; on this evidence, the results will turn for him.
Chelsea's goals stemmed from their bullying aggression. Alex and John Terry swarmed over Kenwyne Jones in the 32nd minute to win possession on half-way, Terry playing in Malouda while Drogba knocked Dean Whitehead off the ball before hitting it towards Anelka, who was brought down by Thomas Sorensen for the game's second penalty. Drogba scored but he later said Lampard, who had been substituted, will continue to be the first-choice penalty taker.
"We are playing good football," Ancelotti said, "but we can show not just good football. It was a physical match and we were ready for that. We are a physical team, we have a lot of power. We have to be ready to play different kinds of football."
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