Chelsea lined up in their luminous away kit for the trip to St Andrews as Birmingham highlighted the genuine frailty of their title charge.
Carlo Ancelotti, in the midst of his greatest managerial crisis since he took over at Stamford Bridge, was buoyed by the return of Alex at centre back, but without influential duo Frank Lampard and John Terry, Chelsea suffered a second successive Premier League defeat.
For the first time under his guidance, Chelsea appear frighteningly fragile. With Didier Drogba set to captain the side indefinitely through Lampard and Terry’s extended absence, Chelsea lack an authentic leader and Ancelotti has made a grave error in asking the extravagant striker to lead the team. It is no secret the Ivorian hit man has a history of throwing his toys out of his pram, and donning the captain’s armband requires a rare capacity to put the team’s milestones over personal concerns. A great player does not necessarily make a great leader.
Chelsea went into this game having lost two of their last three Premier League games and would have done magnificently well not to improve on the horror show in their last outing against Sunderland. Any improvement was marginal – despite the statistician registering 25 Chelsea efforts on goal against Birmingham’s one – but what makes for even worse reading is that The Blues have only managed to find the net once in any of their last four fixtures.
Without Yuri Zhirkov – yet another Chelsea casualty – The Blues midfield lacked any creative beacon and looked restless in possession as a result. Drogba in particular was void of the confidence that saw him scoop the Golden Boot award last year, and any time the skipper did find sight of goal, he was denied by an impressive Ben Foster or the woodwork.
Florent Malouda, who was so widely praised in the media following France’s 2-1 triumph at Wembley on Wednesday, was surprisingly subdued in the first half and in stark contrast to his Chelsea teammates, seems to raise his game for international fixtures. As the game wore on, the visitors forced their way back into the game primarily due to Birmingham’s reluctance to deviate away from their successful counter attack strategy, and in the end, it was Chelsea’s profligacy that cost them dear.
All has not been well at Stamford Bridge since the departure of Ray Wilkins as head coach and with the Chelsea legend now contemplating legal action against the club; cracks have appeared in a formally impregnable unit. Ancelotti has until now been very reluctant to exercise his spending power in the January transfer window, but shorn of stalwart defensive pair Terry and Alex, Chelsea are painfully thin at the back. Branislav Ivanovic remains the only fit and recognised centre back at the club and despite the managers previous claim to blood young players in first team action, no defenders have yet been given the opportunity to make their mark.
Next up for Chelsea is a Champions League clash with MSK Zilina on home soil ahead of an unfavourable trip to Newcastle. With the West Londoners already safely through to the knockout stage, this is a perfect scenario in which to experiment with a younger starting XI and identify who can plug the gaps in Ancelotti’s fast sinking ship.
19 Ferreira – 2 Ivanovic – 33 Alex- 3 Cole
7 Ramires – 12 Mikel – 15 Malouda
39 Anelka – 11 Drogba – 21 Kalou
65 – 17 Bosingwa on for 19 Ferreira
72 – 23 Sturridge on for 7 Ramires