Cole 'the genius' helps leaders take five

Chelsea 5 Blackburn Rovers 0: Winger's outstanding return after nine months has Ancelotti purring as Chelsea stroll to the top of Premier League
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The Independent Online

Pilloried last weekend after losing a second successive away game at Aston Villa, Chelsea soared back to the top of the Premier League with another emphatic victory to follow the 4-0 demolition of Atletico Madrid three days earlier.

Their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, happily restored to the dug-out after visiting his seriously ill father in Italy, may have been concerned by a failure to capitalise on first-half domination with more than a single goal, but the second period was a rout. Despite slip-ups at Wigan and Villa Park, his team remain as impregnable at the Bridge as Horatius; with Manchester United due here a fortnight today, this was an eighth successive home win of the season in all competitions, in which only one goal has been conceded.

Losing Ashley Cole from the Atletico game proved far less important against a feeble Blackburn than the return of Didier Drogba and Joe Cole, both of whom were outstanding in a vibrant attacking display. Nicolas Anelka in attack and Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien, the other members of the oft criticised midfield diamond, were not far behind. After a comparatively dull first half-an-hour, in which the only score was an own goal, this was Chelsea glittering and sparkling in the manner Roman Abramovich has paid so much money and paid off so many managers to see.

Only the nature of the opposition could temper the praise. Blackburn had Sam Allardyce on his feet and bellowing at them throughout the first half, but later he seemed resigned to their collective fate. There were far fewer consolations for him than in the previous away game, a 6-2 defeat at Arsenal; and on Saturday they go to Old Trafford. "The second half was pathetic," Allardyce said. "At the moment they're not good enough, not mentally resilient." It was certainly not the day for David Dunn and Christophe Samba, two of the better competitors, to be missing with a virus.

As for Chelsea's performance, "it was a pleasure to see," Ancelotti said. He described Cole as "a genius", although perhaps it was excitement at being back after nine months that caused him to fluff the chance of a goal within 30 seconds of his return. He drifted into a perfect position six yards out and was picked out by Lampard's cross, but glanced his header wide. It did not seem to matter when Chelsea scored after 20 minutes. Justifiably accused of lacking width at times, they made some through Anelka's run down the left, where Ballack found him for a low cross that Gaël Givet diverted into his own net.

Given Chelsea's recent weakness at set-pieces, the first couple of Blackburn free-kicks from out on the left were awaited with some trepidation by the home crowd. Petr Cech collected them easily enough, then caused an intake of breath by missing a long throw from Morten Gamst Pedersen. That was as good as it got for the visitors for a long while, as Lampard, Anelka, Drogba (twice) and John Terry all threatened to increase the lead.

Blackburn's only hope, that Chelsea would drift into complacency, was shattered by four more goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half. First, Essien sent Drogba thrusting into the penalty area and he crossed low, Lars Jacobsen only diverting the ball out to Lampard for a second goal in four days after 10 games without one. Then, as Blackburn prepared to replace the hapless Jason Roberts, Essien decided to have a pop from 35 yards and a combination of power and swerve defeated Paul Robinson.

The goalkeeper had earlier saved brilliantly from John Terry but he was to be let down by his leaky defence twice more.

Ryan Nelsen brought down Drogba to give Lampard a second goal, this time from the penalty spot, and the referee Alan Wiley, looking fit enough here, could easily have pointed to the spot again as Robinson challenged Drogba without taking the ball. The Ivorian had his revenge with a header from Ballack's corner for the fifth goal. As thoughts turn to Anfield this afternoon, Ancelotti said: "For one day I can be a fan of Liverpool."

Attendance: 40,836

Referee: Alan Wiley

Man of the match: Drogba

Match rating: 7/10

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