Chelsea moved within six points of leaders Manchester United courtesy of a 3-1 victory over Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge.Florent Malouda scored a brace, and Salomon Kalou also netted in a routine win which never looked in doubt despite a 76th minute penalty from Sebastian Larsson that at least gave the visitors hope.
The victory rekindles Chelsea’s fading title hopes and, with Fernando Torres left on the bench, Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked back to something like their best.
With Arsenal only drawing at Tottenham it lifts the Blues to second place in the table and left fans wondering if the season might not be over after all – especially with a trip to Old Trafford still to come on May 8.
Chelsea started the match with vigour and were ahead within three minutes thanks to winger Malouda.
It was captain John Terry who played a major part, spreading a wonderful cross-field pass out to Paulo Ferreira on the right wing; but Birmingham will be disappointed with their defending as they allowed the full-back to miss-control, recover and then turn to cross unchallenged.
Didier Drogba, who was at his best all match, flicked the ball on and Malouda arrived to crash the ball home from close range.
From that moment on it was always going to be Chelsea’s day and Drogba had an effort tipped over the bar before Kalou made it 2-0 in the 26th minute.
The Ivorian winger took a pass from Drogba, cut past two Birmingham defenders and curled an exquisite shot into the net from 20 yards.
Birmingham, who saw a shot from Cameron Jerome saved by Petr Cech, were always second best and although they were allowed occasional spells of possession it was always clear that the home team was in control.
Chelsea made it 3-0 when youngster Ryan Bertrand, on for the injured Ashley Cole, crossed for Malouda to head home after 62 minutes and soon after manager Ancelotti opted to bring on Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres to go for broke.
Birmingham did respond, Larsson scoring from the penalty spot after 76 minutes when sub Matt Derbyshire was brought down by David Luiz. But Chelsea were comfortable winners, even if £50m man Torres continued his miserable run without a goal as he barely touched the ball during 23 minutes on the pitch.