Chelsea wins 3-1 to stay in title contention

Florent Malouda helped Chelsea remain in the Premier League

title hunt on Wednesday, scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Birmingham

that moved the reigning champions into second place behind

Manchester United.

The France winger broke the deadlock at Stamford Bridge after

just three minutes with a far-post finish and rounded off Chelsea’s

scoring in the 62nd with a firm header from eight yards, taking his

season’s tally in the league to 12 goals.

That brace sandwiched a superb individual effort by Salomon

Kalou in the 26th, leaving Carlo Ancelotti’s side six points adrift

of United with five games left. The win allowed Chelsea to leapfrog

Arsenal, which is third on goal difference after a 3-3 draw at

north London rival Tottenham on Wednesday.

Chelsea must still travel to Old Trafford to play United on May

8, while Alex Ferguson’s team also has to visit Arsenal on May

1.

Birmingham’s consolation goal came through Sweden winger

Sebastian Larsson from the penalty spot in the 76th, after David

Luiz tripped substitute Matt Derbyshire. But the defeat shouldn’t

affect Birmingham, which has a five-point cushion above the

relegation zone.

Ancelotti stuck to a 4-3-3 formation, keeping the same front

three that began the 3-1 at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday and

starting record signing Fernando Torres on the bench again. The

move paid handsome dividends, with Didier Drogba impressing in the

lone striker’s role and Malouda and Kalou always dangerous just

behind.

Torres was introduced in the 67th minute, along with fellow

striker Nicolas Anelka, but the Spain international didn’t have a

chance to end his scoring drought for Chelsea that extended to 728

minutes and 13 games.

Birmingham, which has never won a Premier League game at

Stamford Bridge, was always up against it from the moment Malouda

poked home a finish from five yards (meters) after Drogba flicked

on Paulo Ferreira’s right-wing cross.

The visiting defense looked shaky all match and it was carved

open by Kalou for the second goal. Collecting a pass from Drogba,

the Ivory Coast forward span past Roger Johnson, dummied his way

around Stuart Parnaby and curled a sublime shot into the corner

from outside the penalty area.

Ancelotti threw on Ryan Bertrand in the 56th for his first-team

debut, replacing Ashley Cole, and the 21-year-old left back sent

over a cross six minutes later that Malouda met with a firm

downward header that found the corner.

Derbyshire drew a foul from Luiz, who had been largely

untroubled the preceding 75 minutes, to earn a penalty that Larsson

dispatched clinically high into the net. Craig Gardner had

initially grabbed the ball with the intention of taking the spot

kick but was ousted from the duty by Larsson, much to Gardner’s

chagrin.