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.