LONDON, January 28 – Chelsea eased their way back to the top of the Premier League after two goals from Frank Lampard and a first half strike from Florent Malouda sealed a comfortable 3-0 victory over Birmingham City.This was a telling response from Carlo Ancelotti’s side who had slipped from first to third, behind Manchester United and Arsenal, since their last league outing.
Chelsea overwhelmed a Birmingham side who arrived at Stamford Bridge on the back of an impressive 15-game unbeaten run and with the reputation as one of the top-flight’s form teams.
However, Alex McCleish’s side were no match for the London club who established control with two first half goals before completing the win through Lampard’s expertly taken second in the final minute.
There were clearly no grounds for complacency within the home camp, Chelsea having been held to a scoreless draw by McCleish’s men when the teams first met at St Andrews last month.
That was the first time in 34 games Chelsea had failed to score, and no other team has denied them since.
And it quickly became clear there would be no repeat of the Midlands club’s impressive rearguard display this time around with Ancelotti’s side taking just six minutes to break down the visiting defence.
Chelsea’s attacking play has reached new levels since the turn of the year with the London club rattling in 14 goals in their previous three games.
That return has been achieved without Didier Drogba who has been absent on Africa Cup of Nations duty and was again missing, along with Ivory Coast team-mate Salomon Kalou, having returned from Angola too late to be considered for selection.
Once again, though, the striker’s absence wasn’t felt as Chelsea easily carved Birmingham open with their first meaningful attacking move.
The architect of the goal was Joe Cole who easily beat City left back Liam Ridgwell before floating a cross towards Malouda.
Much of Birmingham’s success this season has been down to their defensive strength but they were woefully exposed as Malouda rose unchallenged and headed home from six yards.
Birmingham responded positively with Cameron Jerome’s deflected shot almost catching Petr Cech.
That, however, was the sum total of the visitors’ attacking efforts in a one-sided first half that showcased Chelsea as a team on top of their game.
Joe Cole was in impish mood, demanding the ball and making darting runs that appeared to bewilder the Birmingham defence while Nicolas Anelka’s unselfish work helped drag holes in the visiting back-line.
Cole twice flashed powerful shots close to Joe Hart’s goal before teeing up John Terry for a snapshot that brought a smart save out of the City keeper.
But it was only a matter of time before Birmingham crumbled again and they once again had only themselves to blame for standing off Lampard and allowing the England midfielder to pick his spot and fire past Hart from 25 yards.
With 32 minutes gone, there seemed to be no way back for Birmingham and the pattern was maintained after the break with Anelka, anxious to make the most of Drogba’s absence, coming close with a low shot that hit the side netting.
Michael Ballack should have extended the home side’s lead with two efforts – a tame header and a lazy flick – around the hour that should have forced Hart to work harder to deny Chelsea a third.
There appeared little chance those misses would prove costly, although James McFadden should have brought City back into the game in the 71st minute.
Once the Scot had pulled his shot wide, though, the demoralised visitors had no chance of recovering.