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Chelsea returned to the top of the Premier League with a swaggering display against Birmingham at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.

It was a superb 90 minutes, with Birmingham’s notoriously hard to beat defence broken down time and again, Florent Malouda heading the opening goal after just five minutes before Frank Lampard added a second on 31.

Chances continued to flow, while City rarely threatened, although it took until the 90th minute for Lampard to convert the third, his 13th of the campaign.

Birmingham’s run of form up to this game was well documented, 15 games unbeaten in all competitions, stretching back to October, while Chelsea’s current form has had commentators purring, 14 goals coming in the last three games.

Despite four straight wins it is a squad game, and Carlo Ancelotti made six changes to the side that won at Preston, the most significant being starts for Deco in deep midfield and Joe Cole in attacking midfield.

The visitors were unchanged for a tenth consecutive game, with a defence that featured former Chelsea season ticket holder Roger Johnson, though there were no signs of any celebrations from the centre-half when Malouda headed the opener just five minutes in.

Joe Cole, who Ancelotti has publicly demanded more from, burst down the right and escaped Lee Bowyer, clipping a cute cross into the six-yard box from the right-hand side, leaving his French team-mate the simplest of tasks to nod home beyond Joe Hart.

Chelsea v Birmingham

It was the perfect start against one of the Premier League’s tightest defences, they had conceded just 24 goals before tonight, and having scored only 21, Birmingham would be hard pressed to find an equaliser.

Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez had already dragged a shot wide before the goal, and not long after it he deflected Cameron Jerome’s effort narrowly over. It was a warning that served to show the Chelsea defence it could ill afford to switch off. Deco in particular would need to discipline himself as their protective shield.

On the front foot Cole was really beginning to shine. He forced a corner from which Ricardo Carvalho’s header was cleared off the Birmingham goal line and then saw his own effort ricochet just wide. Between those two incidents, Lampard curled straight into Hart’s arms before the mercurial number 10 again worked the keeper with a decent effort – a Chelsea second did not seem far away.

Chelsea v Birmingham

Just after the half-hour, it duly arrived through Lampard from outside the area. The midfielder was afforded plenty of space to get his shot away after Ballack had supplied a square pass, and didn’t need an invitation, letting fly into Hart’s bottom-right corner.

It was a comfortable and well-deserved two-goal cushion that Chelsea took into half-time, emerging in the second half with the intention of adding to the goal tally.

Lone striker Nicolas Anelka flashed a shot just wide and Ballack headed an Ashley Cole cross into the ground, allowing Hart to save, inside the opening 10 minutes of the second half.

The left-back was another who was excelling up and down, allowing the dangerous Sebastian Larsson little of the ball while supporting almost every Chelsea attack. To compensate for his absence at the back, Deco was doing a very good job of sitting deep, spraying passes at will.

Chelsea v Birmingham

On the occasion where his footing failed him, the commanding John Terry stepped in to pinch the ball away from Benitez and launch another attack, which ended when Ballack flicked a low corner just over the far post.

On 65 minutes Joe Cole and Anelka combined to tee up Malouda, whose low shot was easy pickings for Hart, and then the Englishman had his shot blocked by defender Scott Dann.

Five minutes later there was a chance at either end, Ashley Cole shooting straight at Hart from 12 yards, and then James McFadden dragged his effort wide at the other end, leaving Petr Cech as yet untested.

The Czech’s quiet night came to an end moments later when he was forced to acrobatically push sub Keith Fahey’s goalbound effort over the bar, after Terry and Ricardo Carvalho had lost out to Benitez.

Chelsea were soon on the attack again, Malouda shooting wide before inadvertently sending Anelka’s on-target shot over the bar and into the Matthew Harding end.

By now Yury Zhirkov had replaced Joe Cole and was busying himself alongside Malouda behind the excellent Anelka, who had again linked play superbly from the front. The forward gave way to Daniel Sturridge with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining.

Chelsea v Birmingham

There was of course time for a third goal, Chelsea hitting the away side with a brilliant break, Malouda bursting into the Birmingham half, and with options either half he laid it left to Lampard, who composed himself and shot hard and low into the bottom corner.

It was the perfect end to a great night, in which Chelsea had burst Birmingham’s bubble, and returned to the top of the Premier League with Arsenal drawing 0-0 away at Aston Villa.

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Deco, Ballack, Lampard; J Cole (Zhirkov 80), Malouda; Anelka (Sturridge 87)
Scorers Malouda 5, Lampard 31, 89

Birmingham (4-4-2): Hart; Carr (c), Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, McFadden (Michel 71); Jerome (Fahey 55), Benitez.


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