Drogba drives Chelsea back into reckoning
It was almost like the last five and a half months didn't happen at Stamford Bridge last night as Chelsea brushed aside Birmingham City with the kind of swagger that hasn't been witnessed since late autumn, since they were pulling apart all-comers, since before Roman Abramovich started his meddling. Again.
Carlo Ancelotti may well have mulled over all of this and also the recent admission, something he has staunchly refused to acknowledge until this week, that the squad he went into this campaign with was not strong enough.
That was undoubtedly true, but then he has not had Didier Drogba in this kind of form for quite some time.
The striker was unstoppable. This was Drogba at his frightening best summed up by a first-half moment in which he challenged for a routine goal-kick, bounced off the defenders and struck a fierce low shot that almost resulted in another goal.
Maybe it's the knowledge that he can leave this summer, if the right offer is made, because he no longer represents the club's future, maybe it's the freedom of being finally free of the effects of malaria.
Either way it was, again, Fernando Torres on the bench until the points were secure.
Despite the heavy air of inevitability that has hung around Chelsea in recent weeks, with the departure of Ancelotti an unconfirmed given, there has been the stealthy collection of points in the league.
They went into this encounter on a seven-match unbeaten run, pushing them up the form table, even if the evidence of the eye appeared to be that this was still a team appearing more fragile than it should be and still shorn of belief.
Within three minutes, Ancelotti was provided with resounding evidence that he had been correct in his formation and personnel as two of his front three combined for the first goal.
It owed much to a superb raking pass from John Terry, out to Paulo Ferreira on the right. He swung in a cross, Drogba headed on and there was Florent Malouda to volley the ball home ahead of Stephen Carr, just a couple of yards out.
If that was a resounding piece of evidence then, 23 minutes later, there was another.
Again Drogba was involved. This time he collected possession and played a simple pass into Salomon Kalou's feet. The striker spun away from Roger Johnson, leaving him grasping in his wake before striking a curling, right-footed shot that nestled in the net with Ben Foster rooted.
This felt like a Chelsea side unshackled, free of pressure. Not that they were utterly dominant. There were still mistakes.
John Terry's failure to clear a goal-kick allowed Alexander Hleb a run at goal. He took an extra touch and Terry was able to recover and push the ball away for a corner before a long pass forward by Barry Ferguson caught out the Chelsea defenders, allowing Cameron Jerome to show his pace and strike an early shot that Petr Cech finger-tipped into the side-netting for a corner.
Headers from Michael Essien and David Luiz flashed wide and then substitute Ryan Bertrand, the England U-21 left-back making his debut as a replacement for Ashley Cole, swung in a wonderful deep cross from the left which Malouda easily reached to guide his header, this time, across Foster for a third goal.
If that killed the contest then, clearly, David Luiz didn't realise that. As exciting and impressive as the Brazilian defender is, he is also capable of costly rashness and was guilty, once more, in bringing down substitute Matt Derbyshire. Sebastian Larsson drove the penalty high to Cech's right.
By now Chelsea had Drogba, Torres and Nicolas Anelka on the pitch but it was another striker, Derbyshire, gifted a chance as Gardner tackled Mikel.
Through on goal, Derbyshire snatched at the chance, and dragged his shot woefully wide.
Chelsea earned an indirect free-kick 10 yards out and, interestingly, Drogba took it ahead of Torres. He'd won the game and earned that right. (© Daily Telegraph, London)