When I was a kid, one of my last memories of football in England was Chelsea vs. Bolton in late October, 1996. After that, a move to the United States made my Chelsea fandom much harder to sustain - my dad (hi dad!) would make regular business trips back home and come back with videos of individual games and season highlights*, but I didn't get to watch regularly again until my university days.
*Despite despising all football I wasn't actively playing in. Bless him.
So yeah, that match sticks out. The 2-1 loss to some podunk League One team after Scott Minto gave us a 1-0 lead after two minutes was almost as bad as England losing to Germany that summer. Matthew Harding dying in the aftermath didn't help matters at all - I was too young to know or care who Harding was, but I was old enough to understand that those pictures of a crashed helicopter meant a very sad family, and I felt obligated to join in in being sad.
Ever since then, I've despised Bolton.
Some of that edge is off these days, since irrational hatred left over from when you're a small child is one of those things that gets pushed out of the door when you encounter adult problems. (How can I hate Bolton as much as I hate, say, alarm clocks? Or taxes? I can't.) However, a shadow is still there, a spectre in my mind that pops up whenever I think about the team.
"Bolton," ten-year-old Graham says, somewhere in the deep recesses of memory. "They're poopheads*."
*I suspect I had a more extensive vocabulary than this by this point, but hey.
So yeah, there's something about Bolton Wanderers that I find annoying. That's unfortunate, as I quite like several things about the club. They fired Sam Allardyce at some point, and anything that makes Allardyce upset is something I wholeheartedly condone. They turned Daniel Sturridge from a project into a project everyone thinks is way better than he probably is, which is good writing material. They've taught me how to spell Jussi Jaiskelainen without looking it up, which I suspect might be the greatest accomplishment of my life. And they have Alvin the Chipmunk's biological father running things over there, which makes for amusing voices in my head.
I guess that's a lot of words already without there having been anything about the football game on Sunday (1:30 PM GMT; 8:30 AM EST), so let's talk some about that. Bolton, right now, are... pretty terrible. Following a 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers to start the season, the Trotters have been abysmal. They've managed zero points since then and a -12 goal differential in five games, having been beaten by Manchesters City and United, Arsenal and Liverpool. To top that off, Great White Yankee hope Stuart Holden turns out to be borked for another six months following a rather abortive recovery from a broken leg - they're not getting midfield help anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Chelsea are playing very effective football, and are coming off a weekend where they demolished Swansea City at Stamford Bridge and then played Valencia to a highly competent 1-1 draw at the Mestalla. The Blues might be missing Fernando Torres, but they're hardly blunted in the attack - most teams would kill to have Didier Drogba in the lineup.
With the Ivorian set of a reinstatement, our date at the Reebok Stadium may well prove to be the perfect opportunity to give Juan Mata a rest. Torres is suspended and thus doesn't really need his compatriot's expert service, and in Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge we have a pair of wide forwards more than capable of causing chaos in Bolton's flimsy back line.
Frank Lampard and Ramires were pulled from the Valencia game early, and they probably figure to start here with Raul Meireles in the holding role. The rest of the team is easy, with the only question being whether or not David Luiz features. My love for Sideshow Jesus is well known, so this is obviously incredibly biased, but I think it's now clear that the floppy-haired-hero is out best defensive centre half as well as the most potent disruptive attacking threat the Blues can field at right centre back. Every match he doesn't play is a travesty. Andre Villas-Boas has to know that, right?
Anyway, here's the team I'd expect to Villas-Boas to field:
That should be good enough for a pretty comfortable victory, assuming Bolton continue to be terrible. There's no reason not to go for a comfortable Chelsea win here. 3-0.