WORDS WITH: NICOLAS ANELKA
Plenty of attention was given to Chelsea's recruitment of youth over the summer, as a sign that Andre Villas-Boas wanted to overhaul an ageing squad.
One of the anticipated casualties of this policy was 32-year-old Nicolas Anelka, but he has responded well to the fresh challenge and produced some commendable displays so far in the new season.
The forward has regularly had to prove himself at Stamford Bridge since arriving here in January 2008, and showed in his substitute appearance at Old Trafford on Sunday that he still has plenty to offer the club, even when not playing in his accustomed central striking role.
His introduction at half-time with us trailing 3-0 immediately brought a goal back, when his reverse pass was latched onto by Fernando Torres, who lifted the ball over Manchester United's David De Gea and into the net. Though no further goals followed, our performance at the home of the champions brought renewed hope for the season ahead, and that Anelka can still play a major role.
'It was difficult to come on - when you are losing 3-0 it is always difficult, but it was a good move from Fernando, I saw him and tried to put him in the space for him to score and it worked, it was good,' the creator explains.
'It was a clever pass but he made the good move, I just had to adjust my power for the pass and everything came perfectly. These kind of runs I do when I am a striker so I know what Fernando wants and how he wants to score goals because I am almost the same. It makes it easier to give him the right pass.'
Anyone who has seen Anelka playing on the shoulder of the last defender will see similarities between him and the Spanish number nine, but there is plenty more to the Frenchman's game.
'We are almost the same in that role, playing the same kind of game,' he acknowledges. 'Now with time I am a little bit more... trying to come back and help in midfield but almost the same kind of game.
'At his age I was doing that, but I learned in Spanish football and in Turkey and France, to play in different ways when you can't get the ball in the space, you change your game to find the ball. It was good for me to go there and learn to play in a different way. Madrid was very difficult for me but in the end I learned a lot, even though I left after one year.'
It is now nearly four years since he arrived in west London, and has seen the squad gradually change into the mix we now have. He admits looking around it is sometimes easy to feel old, particularly when informed that 18-year-old forward Romelu Lukaku used to have an Anelka poster on his bedroom wall.
'It makes me feel very old!' he laughs. 'I feel very old. Two or three weeks ago I went to Paris and saw two kids. I was with my friend and we were talking, and they didn't know I used to play for Arsenal! They never knew or saw videos, so I was upset, and said I must be very, very old now!
'It's a good thing for Chelsea to have the young players come in, you still need the quality but it's a good thing.
'Some of us are getting older and it is good to have the new blood. Of course you need some wise players, and we are still here, we are mixing in the same team the old generation and the new generation. You can't just put the young generation in and tell them they need to win. You need some older guidance, and this is what we are trying to do on the pitch. Trying to do our best and also help the young lads.
'Romelu is young and coming from Belgium, another country and way of playing, another league, so he needs to adapt. I think he speaks five languages, so it's good for him because he can adapt easily in the dressing room and learn on the pitch as he plays more games.'
It appears the Belgian will be given his opportunity at Stamford Bridge in the Carling Cup tonight, with Anelka likely to be rested for a game in the only major domestic competition he has not won - indeed he has only appeared three times in it since signing for Chelsea.
'For the top teams the Carling Cup is a good opportunity for the young players, and I am sure they have the quality to do well, and I hope they will do it,' he says. 'United's kids are playing good football. I like the way they play and they have shown they have the quality to play in the first team. We need to do the same here.'
Villas-Boas said last week he expected the forward to depart on a free transfer next summer with his contract due to expire, but the player is not yet sure.
'I am linked everywhere but when you are linked it doesn't mean you want to leave,' he says. 'I like Chelsea and first of all wanted to stay, that's why I am still here. I will see what happens in December and if I am still here I will see what happens in June.
'I am happy here, I like the club, everyone here, and after I will see what happens. It is not only down to me.
'I have been here almost four years now, and I am pleased with the way it has been. It could have been even better but I am still happy.'
Anelka, it seems, still has much to offer, and his contribution so far this season suggests he remains as quietly determined to succeed in a blue shirt as ever.