Lampard strikes on double
Some couples just click, while others need to work at their relationship.
That Chelsea now stand nine points behind Manchester United, boasting a game in hand, their Premier League title not yet wholly relinquished, owes rather more to the natural partnership of John Terry and Frank Lampard than the forced union of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba.
It was from Lampard's corner that Terry headed Chelsea ahead against a typically spirited Blackpool side, and it was the midfielder's determination to match his captain's valour that led to the two strikes in four minutes which settled the game.
Almost a decade on from their first date, Lampard and Terry remain strong and steady. The same cannot be said for the much-vaunted strike pairing which was supposed to herald a new dawn of dominance for Stamford Bridge's fading fiefs.
Drogba and Torres have now had more than a month together. They continue to look like strangers. The confusion over how, exactly, the wealth of resources at Stamford Bridge should be deployed may be a dilemma of Roman Abramovich's making -- even Carlo Ancelotti admits this is not entirely his side -- but whether the Italian retains his job in the summer depends largely on his ability to solve it.
Against FC Copenhagen and Manchester United, it had seemed Didier Drogba would be the fall guy, the iconic Ivorian condemned to a substitute's role after seven years' sterling service, with Ancelotti apparently of the belief that Fernando Torres would function rather better alongside Nicolas Anelka.
Here, it was the Frenchman dropped to the bench, allowing Stamford Bridge's talismans past and present their first chance to hone their partnership in his absence. It was not, it is safe to say, a resounding success.
That Drogba and Torres both possess quality in abundance is not in question; that both rank among the best forwards on the planet, likewise. But both thrive on the responsibility of leading the line on their own. Both are one-man strike forces. They are like poles. They may yet repel.
Here, both seemed uncomfortable in their new skins. One vignette, half an hour in, summed up their evening: Drogba storming forward, ball at his feet, full of grace and menace.
Torres, to his right, burst through, awaiting the through ball; he checked, and burst again. Once more, he checked. The ball never came, Drogba's tunnel vision leading him down a blind alley.
The two spoke after the incident, Torres explaining what he had required. Drogba appeared apologetic. There is no evidence as yet that they have found a language in common.
By that stage, it did not seem to matter: Chelsea led, Terry emphatically heading home Lampard's corner. Some couples click automatically. Others have to work at their relationship.
Yet the unease felt by Torres and Drogba seemed to spread among their team-mates. Chelsea created precious little before Terry struck -- Drogba denied by Richard Kingson, a Torres shot blocked, a Jose Bosingwa effort tipped over -- and the champions struggled to cope with Blackpool as soon as the hosts recovered from that setback.
David Luiz in particular. Twice in a minute the Brazilian defender, half linchpin, half liability, floundered when presented with direct intent: Jason Puncheon hitting the post after streaking past the £24m signing, then David Carney seeing a shot squirm off Lampard after he picked his way through.
Even Ian Evatt had an effort tipped away by Petr Cech. As Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United have learned to their cost this season, Ian Holloway's side tend not to lie down.
This, though, was not the Blackpool which have captivated the league. Deprived of DJ Campbell and their totemic captain Charlie Adam through suspension, Holloway's team did not fizz as they can.
When Evatt clipped the substitute Salomon Kalou as he steadied himself to control Torres' through ball, they must have decided their luck was out. It was a penalty, but it was a decidedly soft one.
Lampard, needless to say, does not discriminate. His finish from the spot was unerring; likewise his calm, side-footed conversion of Kalou's pass just four minutes later.
Even for Blackpool, it was too much. Puncheon arrowed a consolation into the far corner -- depriving Chelsea the right to name themselves the only side who has kept a clean sheet here this season -- late on; Brett Ormerod and Ian Evatt went close to ensuring the most anxious of finishes.
This is not an imperious Chelsea, but a flawed, fraught version. That they have picked up six points while United have managed none, though, suggests they should not be written off just yet. Their love affair with the Premier League is not quite over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)