Chelsea splash out to swamp Rovers
Blackburn Rovers 0 Chelsea 2
Monday 10 November 2008
Chelsea don't quite walk on water at present but they can glide across a Lancashire swamp on this evidence and that does not augur well for those who had hoped that events in Rome last week implied some kind of leak in their structure.
The sight of them emerging early yesterday afternoon into the sheeting rain carried across Ewood Park by a chill north wind, all but one of their non-English contingent wrapped in black woolly gloves, suggested some trepidation and so did Ray Wilkins when he said, before the match, that "this game is going to be one of aggression because that's what Blackburn are about with Paul [Ince] as their manager".
Ducks to water best describes what followed from Chelsea, who were back ahead of Liverpool at the top of the pile on goal difference last night, with 10-goal Nicolas Anelka top of the league's scorers for good measure. Paul Ince left Ewood Park a disgruntled man, demanding that Wilkins "get his facts right", having made his feelings known to him in the technical area about the "garbage" he considered his pre-match comments to have been. "Of course I was a physical player but also you don't play for the teams I played for if you are just a physical player," he said.
But no altercation between former England captains can disguise the story of the day – Chelsea's buoyancy on a pitch so waterlogged as the rain lashed down that the fourth official asked Blackburn officials for a short-term weather forecast as the first half drew to a close. It was not the kind of effortless control which has helped Chelsea put better sides than Blackburn to the sword. Only Florent Malouda, the one without the gloves, and Frank Lampard commanded the conditions with any authority. But there was a resolve which made up for the "hurt" as Wilkins described it with which Chelsea left Rome after Wednesday's 3-1 defeat. Ince joked he had suggested at half-time that referee Chris Foy "call it off" and he probably got it right, considering Chelsea's domination until then. There is no better time to play Chelsea than when they are splashing around a pitch, even Lampard leaving the ball behind, passes coming up short in water and every back-pass a danger. But Blackburn would have been humiliated without the presence of Paul Robinson, a man who is beginning to float again at Blackburn.
Twice in the first half, Robinson saved expertly with his feet after Malouda had floated chances up from the puddles. First Anelka was denied, then John Obi Mikel at the far post. "It's nice to see him back," Wilkins said last night. But Anelka, gifted perhaps the most elementary hat-trick in Premier League history at Sunderland last week, is on the kind of run of luck which made Chelsea's opener inevitable. A 30-yard shot fired in by Jose Bosingwa, five minutes before the break, rolled over the goal-line off his thigh and if Robinson had not been so busy protesting that Anelka had handled it, he might actually have scooped it out of the mud in time.
There was something elemental about Anelka's second, too – Lampard splashing into a challenge with Zurab Khizanishvili to squirt a ball through which the Frenchman slotted home. He would have had his second successive league hat-trick had not Robinson saved again with his foot after Lampard put him through three minutes from time. "It's not his game to play up there on his own and bring people into the game and hold the ball up but he's worked very hard at that aspect of his game," Wilkins said of Anelka. The contribution is all the more valuable considering Didier Drogba's slow recuperation from the knee injury sustained at Cluj in September. Drogba, Wilkins revealed, is "still not quite feeling good enough to come back into the fold."
Where once they offered resistance, Blackburn now offer the elite sides too much charity. Vince Grella's ill-advised backpass inside five minutes took Anelka around Robinson and there was a suspicion that the keeper's trailing leg took him down. Robinson also pushed a Lampard shot brilliantly around his right-hand post.
Cech saved brilliantly in either half, pushing Carlos Villanueva's right-foot shot over the top and smothering after Jason Roberts took down a Pedersen chip, spun and shot. But the Blackburn manager finds himself a point off the relegation spots in this most fluid of leagues. Scolari's views, on his 60th birthday, were not made clear but fortified by a glass of champagne and some cake with his players on Saturday evening, he was back in London with harmony renewed last night.
Goals: Anelka (40) 0-1, Anelka (68) 0-2.
Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1) Robinson; Simpson, Nelsen, Khizanishvili, Olsson; Villanueva, Andrews (Derbyshire, h-t) Warnock, Grella (Mokoena, 44) Pedersen; Roberts (Fowler, 76). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Samba, Tugay, Treacy.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1) Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Bridge; Mikel; Kalou (Belletti, 61), Deco (Ferreira, 90) Lampard, Malouda; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ivanovic, Di Santo, Sinclair, Mineiro.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Blackburn Warnock, Simpson; Chelsea Malouda.
Man of the match: Robinson.
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