After two months of chopping and changing, of prevaricating and doing his best to please the boss, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has rediscovered the confidence to pick his best team come what may.
The results may be following too late in the season to realistically prevent Manchester United closing out what would be an historic 19th title, but this was much more like the Chelsea side of old, full of bullish bravado capped off by a consummate centre-forward's performance from Didier Drogba.
Ancelotti left £50m striker Fernando Torres on the bench for the second game running, and was rewarded by a classic display from Drogba. The Ivorian did not score as Chelsea brushed aside the challenge of Birmingham City to move up to second in the Premier League, but he was the game's dominant figure.
Drogba's vibrant second-half display in Chelsea's Champions League defeat a week ago to Manchester United has convinced Ancelotti to leave Torres for another day. With Ramires out injured, Ancelotti's side was virtually the same one that wrapped up the Premier League and FA Cup Double a year ago; the only addition being David Luiz, who had possibly his least convincing display in a Chelsea shirt and conceded a late penalty which was converted by Sebastian Larsson.
Ancelotti also turned back the clock with his 4-3-3 formation, the one that has served Chelsea well ever since Jose Mourinho kicked it off almost seven years ago. The Italian said after the game that he might change it all again for West Ham United's visit on Saturday but the comfortable way his side combined suggested that would be a dangerously unwise move.
With Drogba at the helm, Torres on the bench, and the team lining up as they have done for years, it was like Chelsea from the 2010 vintage. Drogba scored 37 goals last season, but this campaign has been hit by a dose of malaria, followed by a spell playing second fiddle to Torres, and his tally stands at 13.
Rarely however has he done as well as this without scoring. Drogba had one of those nights when he is virtually unplayable, and City struggled to cope. He may be 33 but on this kind of form Chelsea would be foolish to let him leave at the end of the season.
Drogba played a part in Chelsea's first two goals. In the third minute John Terry played a fine pass out to the right wing where Paulo Ferreira controlled the ball at the second attempt before crossing. Drogba flicked a header on to Florent Malouda and the France international finished with a volley having nipped ahead of the Birmingham captain Stephen Carr.
The visitors regrouped admirably and passed the ball around well but went 2-0 down in the 26th minute when Drogba slipped the ball to Salomon Kalou, who was allowed to run unchallenged to the edge of the penalty area before curling a low shot inside Ben Foster's left-hand post.
With 11 minutes of the second half gone, Carlo Ancelotti gave 21-year-old left-back Ryan Bertrand his Chelsea debut, and the youngster made an immediate impact, setting up Malouda for Chelsea's third goal. Bertrand made the run on the overlap and whipped in a cross which an unmarked Malouda headed in from close range.
With the points in the bag it was clearly safe now for Ancelotti to give Torres a run out with 23 minutes to go. The £50m man replaced Kalou but scarcely had a kick as he took his scoreless run to 725 minutes in 13 appearances. Instead, it was Birmingham who scored when Larsson fired in a penalty after Luiz's rash challenge on substitute Matt Derbyshire.
Chelsea now entertain West Ham United on Saturday having won 19 points from a possible 21 in their last seven league games, and are the form team going into the final weeks of the season. The club's aim must now be to keep the season alive until what could be a title-deciding game at Old Trafford on 8 May.
For Ancelotti, there is still a glimmer of hope. The Italian said: "In football, I learned that everything can happen in the game right up to the final whistle. You can win the title in the last minute, and you can lose the title in the last minute."
Man of the match Drogba.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
Attendance 40,848.Reuse content