Chelsea negotiated a potentially tricky visit to Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road, securing all three points with a 3-1 victory. Much of the credit must go to super-sub Salomon Kalou, who replaced Didier Drogba early in the second-half and contributed two assists. John Terry and Frank Lampard – who managed a penalty and slotted home a second soon after – were the scorers, while Blackpool’s Jason Puncheon bagged a consolation goal late on. The result boosts the Blues faded title hopes, and more realistically proves that the bad moment has been eradicated for now.
Carlo Ancelotti was able to flex his muscles in terms of Chelsea’s squad depth, dropping Nicolas Anelka, Branislav Ivanovic and the below-par Florent Malouda to the bench. In came Drogba – to partner Fernando Torres up-front – with José Bosingwa and Yuri Zhirkov also appearing in the starting eleven.
Blackpool were missing their inspirational midfield linchpin Charlie Adam, but they did boast a side which could trouble many Premier League sides, spearheaded by striker James Beattie who has troubled Chelsea in the past. Built on determination and a lack of fear, Ian Holloway’s side boasted grit and sheer will, not big names and price-tags.
But the Blues bossed the majority of the first-half, with the match reminiscent of the previous meeting between the two sides – minus the goals. The Stamford Bridge encounter back in September saw Chelsea 4-0 up by half-time, but it was a little tighter this time around.
However, the visitors were creative and teased the ball into the danger zone on a number of occasions. Michael Essien knocked on a Lampard free-kick early on which almost found Torres, while the Spaniard himself was so nearly the provider after he flicked on a through ball into the path of Drogba. The Ivorian attempted to round Blackpool ‘keeper Richard Kingson, but failed to evade the stopper who gathered on the ground.
Blackpool threatened sporadically, but in their cavalier way which left gaps in the back whenever they did trouble the Chelsea backline. Petr Cech had to deal with a shot from David Carney, but nothing major.
The breakthrough eventually came for Chelsea half-way through the opening 45 minutes. A Lampard corner found Terry surging forwards to head the ball home; not quite the spectacular finish accomplished by his centre-back partner David Luiz in the win over Manchester United, but vital all the same. After three goals last season, Terry netted his fourth of this campaign.
Bosingwa almost doubled the scoreline soon after, but his bending shot was athletically tipped over by Kingson, who must have been anticipating a siege upon his goal. However, Puncheon was to have the next serious chance; his low drive caught Cech out somewhat, who was forced to divert the shot against the post before the ball was cleared to safety.
There was also a half-chance for Torres and an effort from range by Ramires – both saved by Kingson – before half-time, but the Blues went into the break one goal to the good.
The cushion looked valuable too after the teams re-emerged for the second period, as the home side appeared more dangerous to begin with. David Vaughan shot over the bar from range and controlled the game for a short while, and after Drogba challenged Beattie while the ex-Everton and Southampton made inroads into the Chelsea box, the Ivorian injured a hip and was forced off the pitch. Kalou got the nod ahead of Anelka.
Kalou has been left out of the striking debate by some – and they may say rightly so – but his busy and determined approach is often the perfect foil for the brawny Drogba and the lethargic Anelka. Alongside Torres? We would see.
And it didn’t take long for the much-maligned Kalou to make an impact. Some clever play in the final third saw him flick the ball over his head to evade a challenge, before he was felled for a free-kick 25 yards out, and he again bought a foul around the hour mark. This time however, it was inside the box.
Kalou wriggled into the area after being played in, and Ian Evatt clumsily brought him down before making any attempt upon the ball. Penalty given, Frank Lampard steps up, and the rest writes itself.
2-0 up and it turned to three just minutes after. Kalou again provided, Lampard again netted. Some clever footwork from the former found a great run by the latter, and the midfielder slotted home. Kingson left the pitch after picking the ball out of the back of the net, as a niggling injury wouldn’t relent. He was replaced by youngster Mark Halstead, who forgot his armbands and probably wasn’t expecting to be thrown into the deep end tonight.
While Blackpool floundered, Ancelotti revelled in Chelsea’s healthy lead, even bringing Josh McEachran back into contention with a fifteen-minute cameo from the subs bench, much to the delight of the hardy travelling fans. He kick-started an attack with an interception from deep which ended with Kalou playing in Torres. Frustratingly, his shot was comfortably saved by Halstead.
Blackpool managed a consolation as some lackadaisical defending late on let Puncheon in who finished with aplomb, but overall it was back to business for a rejuvenated Chelsea side. Kalou may not be worth £50m, but it’s nights like this which show that every once in a while he can be priceless. There was a 93rd minute chance blazed over from a matter of yards out, but we can forgive him for that one.