And no, it was not the absence of Didier Drogba but his international colleague Salomon Kalou who will see his name in the limelight. The Chelsea player has found himself on the fringe of the first team for the previous four seasons but after securing the blues victory in Europe he may have submitted a significant case for a start at Blackburn this coming Saturday. The 24-year-old started with some questionable finishing, almost impossibly slotting wide after a well-paced ball from Michael Ballack. The Ivorian also interfered with play when Frank Lampard’s free-kick seemed to evade everyone including Sergio Asenjo’s grasp, Kalou was deemed to have been active when replays appeared to differ. The Chelsea striker in replacement of the suspended Drogba did find the net eventually with a simple finish after good overlapping and delivery from Ashley Cole. The versatile attacker soon doubled the lead, heading a Lampard cross into the bottom corner.
Lampard then put an end to an uncharacteristic barren spell in front of goal, as he struck a powerful effort in at the near post – a trademark of the England international’s game. The midfielder’s performances have – for the first time under a reformed Chelsea side – been criticised this season for lacking creativity and potency in the final third. The long-serving Blue showed his relief at the strike before onrushing teammates joined in the celebrations. A turbulent time for the pivotal vice-captain, but a goal the fans and the board will hope spurs the attackingly minded individual on a run. With Lampard’s goal already sealing victory, Luis Perea was still able to dash salt on an open wound, diverting Florent Malouda’s free-kick over Asenjo and into the already peppered Atletico goal.
The Blues must now capitalise on their European victory, bringing the result and morale boost with them in Saturday’s later kick-off with Blackburn. Michael Essien or John Obi Mikel, should he receive a call up, will be required to combat an in-form David Dunn this week, although it would be predicted for the Blackburn magician to opt for a deeper role. The Blues, amidst poor away form of late, will necessitate their home form to hold strong. With two defeats in nine and some victories of a more fortunate manner, the Londoners will consider themselves lucky to still be in chasing distance of their rivals let alone just one point and one goal off leaders Manchester United. The gap between the ‘top four’ and the remaining sixteen may have been subject to substantial exaggeration pre-season, with Wigan, Villa and Sunderland already providing considerable threat to the top sides’ supposed guaranteed three-pointers.
Branislav Ivanovic replaced Ricardo Carvalho in the centre of defence in midweek and may have done enough to secure a Premier League start. The no-nonsense centre-back will provide aerial presence in both boxes – a feat yet to be achieved by the Blues. John Terry has yet to influence sufficiently with Chelsea conceding goals from set-pieces and failing to capitalise in the opposite box. Even the reliable powerhouse Drogba was drawn to the ball against Aston Villa, much to the delight of James Collins – who was allowed the freedom of the box to pick his spot. Blackburn does not pose great threat from set-plays, although the tower of Christopher Samba will cause anxiety within the defending Chelsea side.
Where will the game be won or lost? Franco Di Santo has expressed his desire for his parent club to succumb to defeat despite finding himself in the stands (due to the loan agreement). However, the Blues are likely to play their preferred formation and continue their 100% home record. Will anyone be brave enough to predict a Chelsea win? Recent form would suggest otherwise, it seems any Premier League team, this season more than ever, has the ability to pick up a result, with all the big teams dropping points in the opening months of the new campaign. Blackburn may look to take encouragement from recent Chelsea defeats, however the Londoners’ home form provides a stronger challenge than the away day blues. With Ancelotti’s forced midweek rest for Drogba, the player will be full of energy and hoping to unleash misery upon Sam Allardyce’s men. This writer holds a bad feeling for the Lancashire side this week, Chelsea will be looking to straighten out a mid-table related run, and the Rovers may catch the usually machine-operated side on the wrong day.