Branislav Ivanovic was the hero as Chelsea eventually broke down stiff resistance by a determined Blackburn Rovers side. Despite making noises about rewarding the youth in his squad after an assured display against Ispwich Town in the FA Cup last weekend, Carlo Ancelotti went with his established team, playing both Michael Essien and Didier Drogba ahead of Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge in order to make the most of the considerable experience and star power available to him. The nature of his team selection meant that if Chelsea had failed to secure three points - or looked poor while winning - Carlo was going to get an earful from a number of irate fans.
Fortunately, Chelsea did win and they won fairly convincingly, but that doesn't totally exempt Carlo from criticism. While the defence and midfield were excellent, there was some rather suspect play by the front three of Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba, and Nicolas Anelka, with Malouda in particular guilty of poor play and sloppy passing. The Blues dominated possession in the centre of the pitch, with Essien and Ramires both very tidy in front of the defence, but simply could not break through a Blackburn defence that was happy to put ten men behind the ball whenever Chelsea were in their half.
For the first half things looked dicey, although Chelsea did start extremely well. For five minutes they were the fluid attack fans got used to last season, tearing Blackburn's back line apart almost at will. Only the crossbar saved Steve Kean's side from being behind after a corner spilled off Jose Bosingwa and into the path of the effervescent Ramires, eight yards out. Robinson was well beaten but Ramires will have to wait a little longer to open his account with the club.
After the early spell of Chelsea dominance, Blackburn finally organised themselves into what essentially amounted to a huddle directly in front of their goal. After a few ill-fated attempts at penetrating the visitors' defence along the ground, Chelsea gave up and started showering in crosses, mostly from Bosingwa at right back. Unfortunately, none of them were really that good, and sloppy passing was leading to Blackburn seeing far too much of the ball anyway. While Rovers barely sniffed the Chelsea goal and the corner count was rising for the Blues, it never really seemed as though Chelsea were particularly likely to score, aside from Anelka's clever flick that hit the angle of post and bar off a Drogba corner.
The half-time figures said that Chelsea had hit woodwork twice, had all the possession, and should therefore consider themselves unlucky to be behind, and there's a bit of truth in that - there were a handful of inches between the score being 0-0 at the interval and it being 2-0. However, such a lead would have been by and large undeserved; Blackburn had defended well, having only given up a couple of chances, and Chelsea in contrast looked ponderous and predictable on attack. Ramires was the star of the first half, and his surging runs forward seemed as though they'd be the key in the second period.
It wasn't Ramires who broke through, however. While Chelsea have been struggling with corner kicks this season, they've still got the ability to convert them, and it was from corner number eleven in the 57th minute that the crucial goal came. Malouda, who had won the corner with some fancy footwork against Ryan Nelsen (his first positive contribution in the second half), swung the ball in from the left to John Terry. The captain's flicked header found its way to Branislav Ivanvoic at the edge of the six yard box, but the angle was tight and the Serbian had to both get his feet out from under the ball and beat a pair of defenders and the goalkeeper.
Miraculously, he did, perhaps with the help of a tiny deflection. After the tiniest pause as the crowd braced themselves for disappointment yet again, Stamford Bridge erupted. Suddenly, the floodgates appeared open. Chelsea started to rain down the shots, testing Paul Robinson three times before the second goal arrived. Again, it was from a corner (won after a fine save by Robinson after a hilariously dreadful Chris Samba backpass), and again it was Ivanovic who did most of the work, climbing high above the Blackburn defence to thunder a header goalwards. It didn't quite make it past Paul Robinson unassisted, however, and since Nicolas Anelka got a nick on the ball before it reached the net he'll get credit for the goal - his first in the league since scoring the equaliser against this same Blackburn team on October 30th.
With Chelsea 2-0 up and the game won, Ancelotti deployed Salomon Kalou and Josh McEachran in the place of Anelka and Essien. If the confidence of the first goal gave Chelsea their swagger back, the second broke Blackburn's spirits, and the Blues swarmed forwards looking for more. It's difficult to know whether the presence of McEachran had an impact on the game - they did certainly play better after he came on, but the actual cause is unclear since his appearance was directly tied to Chelsea scoring their second. However, I think it's fair to say that both McEachran and Kalou played very, very well in their time on the pitch, with Kalou particularly impressive for his incisive runs.
Chelsea were unlikely to concede even once and were never going to let a 2-0 lead slip away against a toothless Blackburn side - the introduction of Roque Santa Cruz at half time did nothing to help the visiting side - and they spent the final few minutes having fun with the ball. Danny Sturridge made a cameo in the last four minutes but was unable to add to his seven-goal haul last week, settling for two wildly off-target shots. After three minutes of injury time (spent entirely in the visiting half), Chelsea had their three points in what amounted to a comfortable if not entirely convincing victory.
Chelsea were by far the better team and fully deserved the win, but both goals were scored off set pieces and Blackburn's defence raised several questions that Chelsea didn't answer until the late introduction of McEachran and Kalou. While Ancelotti is confident that our 'bad moment' is over (a 9-0 scoreline over the last two games will give him reasons to smile about life), I'm less sure. Until we see a fluid attacking display from our first choice front three, I'll be nervous about scoring enough goals to haul ourselves back into the title race. Here's hoping we get that next time out. In the meantime, enjoy the win!