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Birmingham 0 - 1 Chelsea


BlueLion.

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Birmingham City 0 - 1 Chelsea F.C.

Saturday 19 January 2008, 15:00 KO, Premier League, Matchday 23, Saint Andrew's Stadium

Birmingham_45_569608.jpg

Peruvian Claudio Pizarro scored his first goal since August to ensure Chelsea left Birmingham with three points and another clean sheet.


Since arriving last summer on a free transfer from Bayern Munich, Pizarro has netted just twice for the West London outfit but both goals have been against the Blues of Birmingham City. Pizarro scored the first of Chelsea's three goals in their sensational 3-2 victory over the same opposition on the season's opening day. Nevertheless, his winner at Saint Andrew's resulted in Chelsea's sixth consecutive win in the Premier League and their eighth win in their last nine games in all competitions.

The Blues made hard work of their opponents and were second to their hosts for large periods of the game. However, assured performances from Ricardo Carvalho and experienced midfielder Claude Makelele steadied a wobbling defence that was clearly missing the presence of captain John Terry. Buoyed by the arrival of Branislav Ivanovic, Avram Grant made just one change to the team that beat Tottenham the previous weekend, replacing Claudio Pizarro with Nicolas Anelka for the Frenchman's full debut. The Peruvian was joined on the bench by Carlo Cudicini, Tal Ben Haim, Wayne Bridge and Steven Sidwell. Anelka had registered two of his ten league goals this season against Birmingham and would be hoping for a similar outcome this time around.

Birmingham's new signing James McFadden would make his debut from the bench and was joined by ex Chelsea striker Mikael Forssell, who scored against Petr Cech on the opening day of the season. Captain Damien Johnson was fit enough to play but was forced to wear a protective mask to protect his injured cheekbone.

Despite Chelsea's superior quality on the pitch, the tenacious energy of the home side prevented the FA Cup holders of creating any clear-cut opportunities for much of the opening exchanges and their own attacking enthusiasm was equalled only by the energetic defensive play of the Birmingham defenders. But regardless of their early pressure, it was Chelsea who were the first to almost fall behind. Sebastian Larsson found himself unmarked in the penalty area and should have done better when he headed wide from a City corner. The attempt was as poor as the defending, and Petr Cech was furious with his defenders for allowing the City midfielder to remain open in the centre of the box.

Shaun Wright-Phillips challenged Damien Johnson on the half way line with ten minutes played and landed awkwardly, leading to many anxious Chelsea faces. The England winger bravely battled on but was forced to withdraw on twenty two minutes for Pizarro. Chelsea switched to a 4-4-2 formation, with Ballack sitting at the front of a diamond-shaped midfield. Kapo headed straight at Cech from a Larsson corner moments before, indicating that Birmingham would not go down without a fight. Alex replied and went close with a header from a Joe Cole corner, but both sides were finding it hard to create chances save for their respective set-plays.

With half an hour played, Cech and Alex attempted to play the ball out of the penalty area rather than clearing it, which almost lead to the breakthrough. The Czech passed to Alex who was quickly closed down by Johnson and Cameron Jerome who was proving a handful for the Brazilian defender. The Chelsea number 33 returned the ball to his goalkeeper, whose hurried clearance struck Jerome on the head. The City fans watched on as the ball floated onto the post and drifted out of play. It was a lucky let off for Chelsea, but the players sporting the electricity yellow adidas shirts soon gathered their composure once more.

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Jerome again went close and but for blocks by Brazil defenders Belletti and Alex, Chelsea would surely have been behind. Belletti's initial block wrong-footed Cech as the ball ricocheted back to Jerome, whose powered strike was belted to safety by Alex. Fabrice Muamba shot over from outside the area shortly after. Chelsea were clearly second best and needed instant relief. But Birmingham continued to press and were almost rewarded when a breakdown in communications occurred between Cech and Alex, and but for the Chelsea shot stopper’s reactions, Gary O'Connor would have put the home side ahead. Alex went to play back to Cech but his pass was under hit, but the sliding challenge of the Chelsea number one put off the Scottish forward before the ball was subsequently cleared.

In the second half, Birmingham continued to dominate. Kapo skipped around the challenge of Carvalho at the bi-line following good play by Johnson, and but for the faintest of touches from Petr Cech, Sebastian Larsson would have had a simple tap-in. The ball bounced underneath the glove of the Czech and bobbled onto the knee of the City forward who could only direct the ball wide with his knee. At the opposite end, Cole and Pizarro were involved as Anelka played a one-two on the edge of the area before tamely firing straight at Maik Taylor. It was fantastic defending by Rafael Schmitz who just did enough to ensure the Frenchman did not have a clear sight of the Birmingham goal. The wait for his first Chelsea goal continued.

The hosts introduced James McFadden and he almost made a huge impact, before his instinctive effort was well blocked by the legs of the Chelsea goalkeeper Cech. Birmingham played a clever free kick to play in McFadden, but his left-footed drive was well read by the large frame of the Chelsea shot stopper.

But with ten minutes remaining, Pizarro won the game for Chelsea. Juliano Belletti's corner was excellently powered home by the Peruvian striker for his first goal since August, meaning that Chelsea returned to London with three points and the satisfaction of keeping the pressure on league leaders Manchester United and Arsenal at the summit of the Premier League. It would only be a matter of time until this pressure resulted in lost points for Chelsea's rivals.
______________________________________

Match Fact : Chelsea's win at Birmingham City was their 300th since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.

Birmingham: Maik Taylor (6), Kelly (7), Schmitz (7), Ridgewell (6), Queudrue (5), Larsson (6), Muamba (6), Johnson (8), Kapo (6), O'Connor (6) (Forssell (5)), Jerome (8) (McFadden (7)).
Subs Not Used: Doyle, McSheffrey, Parnaby.

Booked: Muamba.

Chelsea: Cech (6), Belletti (5), Alex (6), Carvalho (8), Ashley Cole (6), Wright-Phillips (6) (Pizarro (8)), Makelele (9), Ballack (6), Joe Cole (6) (Sidwell (6)), Anelka (7), Malouda (5) (Bridge (6)).
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Ben-Haim.

Booked: Pizarro.

Goals: Pizarro 79.

Attendance: 26,567

Referee: Rob Styles

Man of the Match : Claude Makelele

Claude%20Makelele.jpg

Edited by BlueLion
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Is that a photo you took BL? Looks like you were sat fairly near me!

EDIT: Just seen its from Sky Sports :blush:

Great report, and agree totally with the ratings. Maka and Riccy were superb.

Thanks for the comment.

I sat in the upper tier, by the way :)

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