Chelsea 3-1 Birmingham City – Champions’ Premier League challenge reignited by Birmingham victory

Chelsea defeated a tame Birmingham City 3-1 on Wednesday night to revitalise their Premier League title hopes just a day after Carlo Ancelotti dismissed the London club as potential champions.

The Blues’ £50million signing Fernando Torres dropped to the bench once again as Didier Drogba spearheaded Chelsea’s attack with Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou supporting him. Birmingham set out in a defensive 4-5-1 formation with Alex Hleb, making his first league start since January, playing a more advanced role to kick start the Birmingham attacks and act as the link between the midfield and lone striker Cameron Jerome, but for most of the game the Belarusian was obsolete as the visitors’ attacks were both lacklustre and few and far between. The on-loan Barcelona forward tried his hardest but could not produce the creative spark needed to cause problems for the Chelsea backline.

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Defensively, Alex McLeish’s men were slack and lackadaisical, which the champions were able to exploit. John Terry played a long ball down the right wing to Paulo Ferreira, who mis-controlled it but was gifted enough space by Stuart Parnaby to take his time and cross Drogba to knock on to Malouda, who directed it over the line to give his side the lead. Kalou made it 2-0 after collecting the ball from Drogba and weaving through the defence unopposed before smashing it past Ben Foster from 18 yards. The visitors looked a lot sharper defensively in the second half but still gave Ancelotti’s boys far too much room in the midfield.

Young full-back Ryan Bertrand came on to replace Ashley Cole after 56 minutes and made an immediate impact. Drogba held the ball up well on the right wing, allowing the debutant to get into a good position and send it into the box for an unmarked Malouda to grab his second goal of the game. Fernando Torres made an appearance for the final 23 minutes, replacing Kalou, while Malouda was substituted for Nicolas Anelka.

Considering the amount of time Birmingham afforded Malouda and Kalou, one would have thought Torres was in with a great chance of getting his first goal for Chelsea. Unfortunately, this was not the case – the Birmingham defence were all over the Spaniard like a rash each time he was in possession of the ball, but it was a reassuring performance from the World Cup winner. El Nino seemed more interested in working for the team than picking up his first goal in a blue jersey, getting into space and spreading out to the wings to create a passing option for teammates.

The visitors looked a lot more potent in attack when David Bentley and Matt Derbyshire came on for Hleb and Jerome respectively with 20 minutes left, but they never looked like scoring until Derbyshire was brought down in the box by David Luiz. The referee immediately awarded the penalty, which Sebastian Larsson stepped up and smashed into the top corner.

Despite wasting a good chance to get on the score sheet, Drogba was the star of the show. The 33-year-old played a key role in all three goals, did well to shake off his markers and worked hard for the team, getting on the end of every ball and being a constant threat to the Birmingham back line.

It was a promising performance from Chelsea, who appeared to have recovered from their Champions League elimination and more displays like this in the next few weeks and the Blues may be genuine title contenders. Birmingham, on the other hand, must tighten up their back line. Alex McLeish will not be happy with his side’s sloppy defending and feeble attacks, and the former Scotland manager will be asking for massive investment in the team next season.

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