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Chelsea 3-1 B’ham: Title still up for grabs as Malouda double puts Chelsea second

Chelsea did their slim title aspirations no harm whatsoever as they climbed above London rivals Arsenal in the Premier League with a 3-1 win over Birmingham City (goals can be viewed here).  A brace from winger Florent Malouda and a stunning solo effort from Salomon Kalou was enough to earn Chelsea all three points at Stamford Bridge last night.  The win also puts Carlo Ancelotti’s side into second place, level on points with Arsenal but they edge ahead of the Gunners on goal difference.  What a month ago might have seemed a “mission impossible” is now looking much more attainable as Ancelotti’s side refuse to give up on a second successive Premier League title.

Chelsea’s return to contention for the domestic crown is impressive by anyone’s standards, helped a by a recent run of form that has seen them win six of their last seven league fixtures.  Whilst that statistic has been well fought out with a never-say-die attitude and willingness to stay true to themselves, last nights victory against an indifferent Birmingham side was more of a formality, as the home team took control in the opening minutes.

John Terry played Paulo Ferreira with a deep ball from defence and the Portuguese full-back delivered a delicious cross for the waiting attacking threesome of Malouda and Kalou supporting Didier Drogba.  The lethal Ivorian helped the cross on with a flick of his boot adding that extra bit of Chelsea spice to the move, and Malouda was at hand to apply the finish.  An ideal start to the game which exemplified much of Chelsea’s recent league success: going about their business quietly and with minimal fuss.

There was fairly little ado about how the rest of this game might be played out, and it certainly did not take a Shakespeare to write this script.  With one already notched up, Chelsea and in-particular Drogba set about unleashing a tempest of goals upon Birmingham ‘keeper Ben Foster.  The Ivorian, who carried on his impressive vein of form was testing Foster at every opportunity.  The ex-Man Utd stopper who was so defiant the last time these teams met, nearly banished the memory of that performance by fumbling a long-range Drogba effort.  The lethal drive stung the ‘keepers hands and threatened to bobble over the line in a “Gom-ezque” fashion.  Fortunately Foster did enough to divert it away from goal.

Drogba was again showing why he is the preferred striking option at the Bridge with a sublime piece of goalscoring initiative.  The Ivorian attempted a cheeky lob that Foster was just about equal to and the stopper also did well to keep out another powerful Drogba effort soon after.  Birmingham were struggling to find a foothold in this game, but on the rare occasion that they got themselves out of their half they did manage a sight of goal.  Alexander Hleb needed only to pull the trigger as he got a rare glimpse Petr Cech, but captain Terry did well to get a block in and deny any route towards goal.

Chelsea promptly resumed the natural order of play as Drogba played a neat ball to Kalou and as the striker went looking for the return ball, Chelsea fans were overjoyed to see the younger Ivorian ignore his team mate and embark on a superb run past Roger Johnson before unleashing an accurate and devastating shot from 20-yards that clipped the inside of the post on its way in.  These flashes of brilliance are a delight to see for all Blues fans; the frustration being they don’t quite see it often enough.  But with 12 goals to his name in all competitions this season, he offers a better return (of both goals and pounds) than Fernando Torres who watched most of the game from the bench.

The second half resumed in much the same way as the first; Chelsea in complete control with the fate of both themselves and Birmingham in their hands.  The passing was quick, direct and accurate whilst the movement was equally as impressive.  But the game quickly hit a sticking point, with Chelsea seemingly happy to keep the ball whilst occasionally letting the visitors have possession as long as they did not come too close to their penalty area- much like a young boy might let his little brother tag along in the park, as long as he doesn’t get too close for people to realise they’re together.

The game needed a fresh injection of pace, skill, excitement and goals.  Cue the introduction of, yes, you guessed it… Ryan Bertrand.  (If I’d wanted the disappointment and enthusiasm of a dry fish then yes, I’d have said Fernando Torres).  Bertrand replaced Ashley Cole on 56 minutes and the young debutant made the perfect start to his Chelsea career, making ends at the B’ham end of the pitch and teeing up Malouda who converted the youngsters cross on the half hour mark.

Chelsea, content with their loot decided to play the rest of the game out at a more pedestrian pace, and while you might criticise them for not going in hunt of more goals, it says much about the ability of Ancelotti’s team to completely control a game from the first whistle to the last; attacking when it suits and just retaining possession when they felt like it.

The visitors did pull one back with 14 minutes left, setting up the prospect of a dramatic finish.  David Luiz conceded his second penalty in a Blue shirt when he fouled sub Matt Derbyshire.  Seb Larsson converted the spot kick in style but the contest had long been over.  Drogba almost cancelled out the penalty with a 25-yard free-kick that went close.  His play deserved a goal, yet the final whistle sounded to an agreeable and mutual applause from the home team.  Alex Mcleish, knew he was well beaten; Ancelotti, refuses to say the same about his teams title hopes:

“You can win the title in the last minute and you can lose the title in the last minute.

Now we are happy tonight because we’ve reached second place. We await to see what happens in the next five games.”

With the deficit cut to six points, is the title now a possibility?… What does this revival say about the Chelsea attitude that has come under so much scrutiny this season?…Should Torres continue to suffer on the bench?…please leave your comments below…

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