After an epic Carling Cup battle away to Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea succumbed to defeat via a penalty shootout. The game saw opportunities arise for some first team hopefuls to stamp a mark on proceedings, as starts were awarded to Salomon Kalou, Juliano Belletti and Yury Zhirkov (the Russian’s third start since joining the club). But make no mistake, this was a side constructed and organised with a view to progressing in the competition. Although John Terry, Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka were omitted from the team, the squad is strong enough to deal with considerable absentees.
The mentality, however, appeared weak, with Blackburn taking grasp of the game and providing its opening goal in the eighth minute. At the interval, clearly displeased with the performance, Carlo Ancelotti made a triple substitution and was subsequently met with great reward. Chelsea’s prolific Ivorian, Didier Drogba, entered the fray alongside youngsters Gael Kakuta and Jeffrey Bruma and within five minutes of leaving the tunnel the Blues flipped the scoreline on its head. Drogba headed the first in after good work by Branislav Ivanovic and French winger Florent Malouda on the left. Kalou was then set free as Blackburn played a high line and the Ivorian didn’t hesitate to give Chelsea the lead, the striker coolly slotting home after a number of chances had previously fallen his way. The 24-year-old did, however, injure his left thigh with a minor tear in the second period, leaving the Blues with 10 men for the latter stages – the striker will be out for two weeks.
A Brett Emerton free-kick then evaded everyone, including Hilario, to level the scores, and with the game drawn at two a piece extra time arrived. Blackburn restored their early lead with a spot-kick from Benny McCarthy in the 93rd minute and Chelsea left it late to voice their reply. Paulo Ferreira’s second-ever Chelsea goal was converted with just 20 seconds to spare and gave way for a penalty shootout to decide who would reach the semi-final. Blackburn came out on top with a 4-3 win in the shootout as the inexperienced Gael Kakuta failed to keep a cool head and saw his penalty parried away by keeper Paul Robinson. The young guns Kakuta and Bruma did however impress manager Ancelotti, despite the former missing a penalty and the latter supplying Rovers midfielder David Hoilett with a clear-cut opportunity after a lazily placed ball across goal.
With Chelsea out of the Carling Cup – a minor blip on their pre-season ambitions – the Blues can now apply sole focus to the more notorious treble of competitions they remain in. This weekend Ancelotti’s men will look to sustain the gap between themselves and Manchester United by defeating the other Manchester side at Eastlands. The Londoners have been on an impressive run of late, with Drogba in particular a key performer. Manchester City, in contrast, has failed to impact on the Premier League since their cash injection, a poor run of seven successive draws has seen Mark Hughes’ men slip 14 points adrift of the Pensioners. With these two businesses colliding this coming Saturday evening, it will be important for both teams to get a result. Chelsea need to accumulate a respectable points total before the break of the New Year, when Drogba and Michael Essien’s well-publicised departures will cause a lack of physical bite in the side. Alternatively, Manchester City must look to the Chelsea game to turn their dull form around.
With the Manchester outfit apparently incapable of holding a lead, the tie against Chelsea will be true test for their defence. With Drogba entering the game on the back of terrorising Arsenal and their captain William Gallas, the Blues will look to repeat this misery on former Arsenal man Kolo Toure this weekend. The game is likely to see the return of relatively fresh faces in Anelka, Lampard, Cole, Terry and Drogba (despite being called upon for more than 75 minutes in mid week). The two sides will look to prove to the Premier League they are worthy of their place and will also look to reassure their investors of their injections into the club. Chelsea are finally becoming the finished article after a series of peaks and troughs in their development. Manchester City, however, are strides off the pace and patience may be the key to their success.