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Blackburn 1-2 Chelsea


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Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Chelsea

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Saturday 30 October 2010, Ewood Park

Branislav Ivanovic was the unlikely match winner as Chelsea showed admirable determination and character to come from behind to beat Blackburn at Ewood Park.

Nicolas Anelka had earlier equalised for Carlo Ancelotti's side after Benjani had given the hosts a deserved lead - but only after Petr Cech had made inspired saves to deny Mame Biram Biouf's excellent chip and then the goalscorer's close range toe-poke. But Ivanovic proved to be the match-winner; heading home from Yuri Zhirkov's magnificent cross to maintain the Blues' five-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Chelsea had been lethargic at times and Blackburn's blistering start had certainly emphasised the Blues' numerous shortcomings early on. Didier Drogba cut an isolated and frustrated figure and was having to drop deep into the midfield to get involved, whilst Florent Malouda and Anelka were largely anonymous for extended periods of the first half.

But the improved display after half-time will no doubt please Ancelotti, who now must turn his attentions to the Champions League, knowing that a win against Spartak Moscow will all but guarantee qualification to the knock-out rounds. The manager's delight was highlighted when he ran onto the pitch to celebrate Ivanovic's late winner, and the travelling fans exited Ewood Park elated by the delirium of the champions' late show.

With Frank Lampard and Ramires still not available, Yuri Zhirkov kept his place in the midfield three after a string of impressive performances. Salomon Kalou was on the bench whilst Ancelotti was buoyed by the return to the defence of Alex, who had missed the last two matches with a groin strain. Any hopes the Brazilian had of a quiet return were blown out of the water by a whirlwind start by the hosts.

Rovers started brightly and threatened to put a dent in Chelsea's title ambitions by resigning them to a third successive away game without victory with a series of early chances; the first drawing a superb save out of Petr Cech. Mame Biram Diouf's chip looked innocuous, but with the ground saturated by an earlier downpour, the big Czech goalkeeper slipped, only to recover in time to claw the ball away from danger. Cech again had to be at his best to deny Benjani with his legs.

Blackburn's start was customary of any Sam Allardyce side - Rovers were throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at Ancelotti's men, who looked sluggish and ordinary. Twenty-one minutes passed before the hosts struck, and Cech was powerless to stop Benjani's excellent downward header after strong play down the left flank by El-Hadji Diouf.

Diouf again caused Cech problems with his deliveries from wide when his deflected cross that threatened to loop in was pushed over by the Chelsea custodian, who was certainly the busier of the two goalkeepers. The black-clad visitors finally demonstrated some sort of attacking intent in response; Michael Essien bending an improvised effort just wide of Paul Robinson's post, whilst Zhirkov had a shot from the edge of the box well closed-down.

Chelsea were upping the ante, and their equaliser came through rather Mourinho-like circumstances as opposed to the Ancelotti ideology of flowing, passing football. Petr Cech slung a goal-kick up field to Malouda, who launched an intelligent early ball into the area. Drogba, woefully quiet for the majority of the first half, did what he does best with a cushioned flick into the path of Anelka. The Frenchman did not hesitate in lobbing the ball into the back for the net for his 9th goal of the season, and his eleventh strike in 15 games against today's opponents.

In truth Chelsea had hardly been in the game and were fortunate to be level; their first meaningful effort resulting in a goal for the in-form Anelka. However the Blues now had the bit between their teeth and their attacking vigour and rhythm were reinstated in a more promising start to the second period.

Ashley Cole flashed an effort wide after a classic counter-attack - but Chelsea fell perilously close to conceding for a second time when Christopher Samba was inches away from directing the ball beyond Cech from a Morten Gamst Pedersen free-kick. At the other end, Robinson parried away another shot from Zhirkov whilst Pedersen's impact on the game was now evident at both ends as he flung himself in front of a stinging Drogba volley to maintain parity.

Chelsea's start to the second half was a massive improvement on the below-par showing prior to the interval, but the momentum gathered from Anelka's equaliser was petering out. Ancelotti responded by putting on Daniel Sturridge, whose electric play nearly produced a bolt from the blue when his stinging drive from 30 yards nestled into the side-netting with Robinson categorically beaten.

Ryan Nelsen was then the beneficiary of a brave refereeing call as Drogba was hauled down by the Kiwi. It looked as if Drogba was through one-on-one but Nelsen was given only a yellow card - Blackburn were fortunate to still have their full quota of players on the pitch as the inevitable Chelsea onslaught begun. Ancelotti will be disappointed his side could not have demonstrated the same attacking menace throughout, but Sturridge's introduction had liven up the Blues' attack and Chelsea now looked the more likely team to go on and score.

That being said, Rovers' substitute Jason Roberts wasted a glorious chance to regain the lead when he bent wide of the far post after some fleet-footedness on the edge of the Chelsea area.

But the Chelsea machine was not to be denied and Ancelotti's men demonstrated exactly why they are champions when Ivanovic headed home when the win looked as if it was slipping away. Zhirkov did brilliantly to clip the ball to the far post - an indication of the good form he currently is in - and Ivanovic was on hand to score his first goal in nearly twelve months.

Blackburn attempted to respond but the lateness of the Serbian's intervention had left Sam Allardyce's side shell-shocked. Some outrageous skill by Zhirkov late on and intelligent hold-up play by Drogba saw the Blues hold on for a hard-fought win - when you win league titles, these are the sort of results you always look back on with fondness. That's why Chelsea are champions.

___________________________________________________________________

Blackburn: Robinson; Salgado, Nelsen, Samba ©, Givet (Olsson 34); Jones; El-Hadji Diouf (Dunn 79), Gamst Pedersen, Emerton, Mame Biram Diouf; Benjani (Roberts 46)

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry ©, Cole; Essien, Mikel, Zhirkov; Anelka (Ferreira 90+2), Drogba, Malouda (Sturridge 71)

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 1, Petr CECH

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