Nicolas Anelka's first half equaliser spurred a sloppy Chelsea onto victory at Ewood Park
Branislav Ivanovic nodded home a late winner at Ewood Park as Chelsea come from behind to win against a resilient Blackburn side. The Blues were some way from their best today, and Sam Allardyce's Rovers played them off the park for the vast majority of the first half and looked dangerous for much of the second. It took a moment of brilliance from Russian midfielder Yuri Zhirkov to unlock the Rovers defence, and Carlo Ancelotti was vindicated in his decision to select Ivanovic at right back over fit-again Jose Bosingwa as the Serbian international was on hand to head emphatically home with six minutes left on the clock.
As games in Blackburn so often do, it started with a downpour, the heavens letting loose on the pitch for the first few minutes before easing up into surly sunshine. So it was for the Blues, too, as they dominated the early exchanges, regularly keeping the ball for minutes on end and stretching the home side with precision passing that belied the conditions - until the rain stopped. For a full half hour thereafter Chelsea gave Rovers everything they could possibly want. Wayward passes from Johns Obi Mikel and Terry? Check. Loose ball control in our own half? Check? Aimless punts downfield in the rare instances we had possession? Oh yes. Giving Blackburn the time and space to play a rather good game of football rather than their usual brand of kick-it-really-hard? Well, I'm sure you can guess.
Chelsea's main issues were coming on the transition, which was happening far too often thanks to some lackadaisical passing at the back. Moving into space is all well and good, but for the most part it merely meant that the defenders were simply out of position when the resultant pass missed its recipient and went straight to a blue and white shirt. Benjani breaking free into the space John Terry might have been occupying was the first danger sign, followed shortly thereafter by a chip by Mame Biram Diouf which, thanks to Petr Cech slipping as he adjusted his feet, caused some consternation amongst Chelsea fans before a combination of Cech and Alex scrambled the ball away.
Normally the figure of John Obi Mikel is key is settling down the side, a rock in the back and a steady distributor going forward. During Blackburn's spell of trampling merrily through the Chelsea ranks, the young Nigerian international decided that being metaphorically a rock simply wasn't good enough and decided that we would assume other aspects of the fabled material - i.e. not moving or, indeed, playing football. It wasn't a large surprise, then, when El Hadji Diouf took it upon himself to cross over a static Mikel for Benjani's headed opener in the 21st minute.
A wake-up call it might have been, but Chelsea hit the snooze buttons a few times and probably deserved to be further behind before the Blues settled down. But settle down they did, and by the 35th minute they were finally starting to hold the ball and make inroads into Blackburn territory. Michael Essien took our first shot in anger, smashing an improvised shot just wide of Paul Robinson's right post with the goalkeeper static. Eventually they made a breakthrough, although they had to resort to route-one football to do it. Petr Cech's punt landed perfectly for the hitherto ineffective Florent Malouda, who long cross reached Didier Drogba thanks to a pair of Blackburn defenders running into each other in a blind panic. Drogba nodded down for Anelka, who slammed a neat finish past Robinson for the equaliser.
The visitors stepped it up a notch after the break, looking far more assured possession, but still very vulnerable to the counterattack. Results from elsewhere were indicating that Chelsea would waste an opportunity to go still further ahead of at least some of their competitors if they failed to get all three points, and so Ancelotti's men committed themselves to the attack, opening up space behind them in what became a thrilling game of thrust, parry, and riposte. Yuri Zhirkov had a shot smartly stopped and Ashley Cole missed a sitter, but Blackburn remained very dangerous. Mame Biram Diouf missed from less than two feet out when it seemed impossible not to score, and Jason Roberts, making his 100th appearance for the club, screwed wide after finding space in the box.
Daniel Sturridge was thrown into the fray for a largely ineffective Malouda, and he nearly made an immediate impact when his darting run ended up with a vicious left footed shot from distance that grazed the side netting. It wasn't the young substitute who made the biggest difference, however. When Anelka fed Zhirkov inside the Blackburn box, he was going nowhere. The area was backed to the brim with blue and white shirts, so Zhirkov turned outside, draw them towards him, and played an impossible, gorgeous chip to the back post, where Ivanovic stood free to power a header home from two yards. Suddenly a day which had seen Chelsea on the ropes for huge periods of time was much improved, despite news of a similarly late winner for Arsenal.
Ancelotti added Paulo Ferreira as the match drew to a close, shifting to a five-man defence for the remainder of the match. He might not have bothered: Blackburn were shaken and with Chelsea able to sit back and defend did not look like they'd be threatening Cech's net any further. Four minutes of injury time came and went without incident before the referee whistled full time, giving Chelsea three vital points in a fixture they rarely looked like winning. It was a huge win for Carlo Ancelotti's side - those points could easily have been dropped and the gap between the Blues and their competitors could have shrunk to three. Instead, Chelsea are still sitting pretty atop the Premier League, with a five point margin between themselves and their closest rivals.
Not the prettiest day's work, but we'll take it.
Chelsea's man of the match?
Yuri Zhirkov (16 votes)
Branislav Ivanovic (9 votes)
Ashley Cole (2 votes)
Michael Essien (3 votes)
Nicolas Anelka (2 votes)
Other (4 votes)
36 total votes