League leaders Chelsea missed the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points, instead being held to a goalless draw by an obdurate Birmingham City.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side bossed the game throughout, but his side fell the fairer side of a linesman’s flag to disallow Chucho Benitez’s 30th minute poach for offside. Up until then, Chelsea monopolised possession, and grew as an attacking threat, with Daniel Sturridge looking lively on his full league debut. The visitors concise passing pressed Brum back deep into their own half as they looked to raid using the pace of Benitez and Cameron Jerome. Birmingham were happy to relinquish the ball, and it was no surprise that the Londoners’ constant probing of the Blues’ defence created a host of chances. Joe Hart saved superbly from Frank Lampard and Sturridge, Didier Drogba volleyed over, whilst Alex smashed the bar with a free-kick and Sturridge lashed wide right on half-time to punctuate numerous other shy’s from a variety of distances and angles.
The second half followed a similar pattern with the Brum happy to contain rather than control. Chelsea remained the more intent to grab a winner, but ran into tenacious opposition not happy to surrender a recent nine-game unbeaten run. As the game’s deadline approached, Chelsea’s attacks gained an air of desperation rather than conviction. Hart pulled off another fine stop to deny Salomon Kalou, and Florent Malouda – later dismissed for a second yellow – should have given Chelsea a late lead but failed to get sufficient contact on Kalou’s centre. At the other end Birmingham threatened sporadically and mostly on the counter, Petr Cech did well to claw out a Sebastian Larsson free-kick but was otherwise untroubled. All square and definitely a point gained for Birmingham and two lost for Chelsea.
Joe Hart: “It’s one of the first games I’ve actually had something to do. The lads have been absolutely awesome so there’s no surprises we’re getting results and where we are in the league.”
Carlo Ancelotti: “It is not a good result for us but, as for what we did on the pitch, I think we played well. We had a lot of chances, showed very good heart and the goalkeeper for Birmingham made very good saves. We are disappointed with the result but not for the performance of the team. We improved after the last time against West Ham.”
Going into the game Birmingham found themselves as the form team in the League coming off a run of nine undefeated. On the other hand, Chelsea’s usually Scrooge like defence had been beset with festive goodwill; leaking twelve goals in their last six games in all competitions, winning just once.
In truth, little attention was paid to the formbook as Chelsea stamped their class and authority on the game from the first whistle. Despite the lack of goals this was a thoroughly engaging affair. Birmingham appeared comfortable with letting their more illustrious visitors take the initiative and it’s probably an indictment of Chelsea’s overall dominance that little was made of the decision to rule out Chucho Benitez’s goal on the half hour. A loose ball from a set-play was delivered back into the Chelsea box, and with Didier Drogba lying prostrate on the turf, Benitez looked just on-side with the Ivorian’s trailing leg as he slid home Liam Ridgewell’s nod-across. The offside flag came to Chelsea’s rescue but they had plenty of opportunity to rue their own bad luck as a combination of Joe Hart and their own errant finishing meant they were unable to claim the maximum points haul.
Alex McLeish’s side were limited as an attacking threat, but the team performance as a whole characterised their recent renaissance. The centre back pairing of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann soldered arms to rebuff most of which Chelsea threw at them, meaning the dangerous Drogba threatened only via proximity. In front of them, the midfield was a picture of industry and toil, constantly running, harrying and destroying Chelsea’s midfield patterns. It was another feather in the cap of McLeish who has solidified the unit of troops at his disposal to find themselves just a point adrift of Liverpool, in eighth position at the half-way stage, and Carson Yeung’s chequebook is yet to be taken out of its wrapper.
From a Chelsea perspective it’s difficult to pinpoint any major failings in this game. Apart from score they looked calm, assured, and overall, good. Given Birmingham’s recent run and optimism, Chelsea asserted control over their hosts, and were the better team in almost every aspect. However, that has been the case in a few of the games of late, which is worrying given their penchant for squandering points. Since beating Arsenal at the Emirates the Blues have picked up only six points from a possible twelve, meaning their lead at the summit could be slashed to one point if Arsenal win their games in hand. Such a position seemed inconceivable at the start of the month after the Gunners were so ruthlessly dealt with, but a mixture of complacency and confusion now threatens to derail Ancelotti’s push to regain the Premier League title.
Goal-scoring options are severely hindered when Drogba is marshalled well, and with only one league fixture remaining until Chelsea’s African contingent embark for the Cup of Nations, a temporary goals solution would be welcomed to make himself known before more points are dropped.
Birmingham City 0-0 Chelsea
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Hart – Carr, Dann, R Johnson, Ridgewell – Larsson ( D Johnson 88), Bowyer, Ferguson, McFadden (Fahey 77) – Jerome, Benitez
Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech – Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, A Cole – Mikel (Ballack 85) – Belletti, Lampard (J Cole 79) – Malouda – Sturridge (Kalou 67), Drogba
Birmingham City – Chelsea
7 – Corners – 11
6 (2) – Shots (on target) – 15 (7)
6 – Fouls – 17
1 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 3 (1)
4 – Offside – 3