Carlo Ancelotti is clearly not in the business to make friends. Although goals from Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka helped Chelsea to a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, Stamford Bridge was still a subdued arena at the final whistle on Saturday evening. More routine than rousing, the victory helped those disillusioned Blues fans remember what it feels like to win, but it certainly wasn’t enough of a performance to make them forget the last few torturous weeks.
The beleaguered Italian manager may also have gained a couple more enemies after his starting line-up was announced just before kick-off. In a midweek press conference he had teased the idea of dropping the out-of-form Michael Essien and the rusty Didier Drogba in favour of the younger, more dynamic and, in recent weeks, more eye-catching Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge – the latter with seven goals in two games (albeit, one in the reserves) to his name. It would have been a squad rotation policy which most fans would have welcomed.
However, the famous eyebrow-raiser Ancelotti reverted to type by naming virtually the same starting eleven who play nigh on every week – seemingly regardless of form. Across the country, eyebrows stayed firmly put. No surprises here then, and the worrying threat of another woeful performance loomed.
Sturridge and McEachran did eventually make it on, for three and ten minutes of normal time respectively, after the often-inept Salomon Kalou also made his bow, a perfect advertisement for our supposed youth policy. By that time the Blues were 2-0 up, but after an abhorrent first-half, it could have been so very different.
To give Chelsea credit, they started with verve and vigour, pushing the sturdy Blackburn side back – although it didn’t seem as if Steve Kean’s team were intent on attacking anyway. Ramires – already going some way to proving CFCnet columnist Tim Palmer right after some dodgy early-season matches –hit the bar after two minutes following a Florent Malouda corner, while Essien headed wide from a similar set-piece.
Drogba also found himself with a chance for redemption amongst a doubting Blues crowd, but with the Ivorian striker through on goal following an Anelka through-ball, he dallied over his touches and allowed Blackburn defender Gael Givet to intercept.
David Hoilett tested Petr Cech in a rare attack for the away side, which ended with some manic defending by Chelsea, before Drogba almost turned provider at the other end, whipping in a ferocious ball to the near post which Anelka could only touch on to the woodwork. The half-time whistle was met by familiar groans.
But if the first 45 was damning, the second period was promising. Having threatened from balls in the box and set-pieces so far, it was no surprise that a corner would again trouble Rovers’ backline. Ten minutes after the restart, Malouda delivered another corner which this time met the head of John Terry. He cushioned the ball on to the back post where Branislav Ivanovic – a scorer when the two sides met at Ewood Park in October – prodded home after controlling the ball well. 1-0 and that now all too familiar surge of relief.
Terry had a chance of his own shortly after, but headed wide, but with fifteen minutes to go Chelsea scored a second, which proved to be enough for the three points. Another Malouda header, another vital touch by Ivanovic, but this time Anelka was on hand to poke the ball home at the back post.
There were chances from open-play too, with Lampard and Drogba going close at points, and although Blackburn weren’t destroyed by our football, they were certainly forced on to the back foot more often than not.
Although recent evidence may have suggested the contrary, Chelsea were able to hang on for the win. Muted celebrations ceased swiftly with the thought of a trip to Bolton approaching a week on Monday. Changes will no doubt be anticipated, but not be made, but will we see anything different in terms of performance on the pitch? Ancelotti still has a lot of work to do, and a 2-0 home win over Blackburn could prove to be the moment of calm before an almighty storm hits.