By Greg Stobart at Bloomfield Road
At the end of this crazy Premier League season in which no team seems to want to win the title, it would be fitting if Chelsea somehow managed to retain their crown despite their dismal form for much of the campaign.
The Blues brushed aside Blackpool on Monday night with a 3-1 win that had their supporters joyously declaring: “Chelsea are back.”
Carlo Ancelotti could not dare say it – but it was quite clear the Chelsea manager thinks his side have a real chance of retaining their Premier League title this season.
In between the well-worn 'game at a time' cliches, the Italian sat at his post-match press conference with a look a satisfaction and steely resolve, insisting that Chelsea's 'bad moment' has now been well and truly consigned to the past.
“Obviously we're closer to Manchester United but we don't have to think too far ahead,” Ancelotti explained. “We have a nine point gap. It's too far away to think we can fight for the title. It's easier to think game by game.”
Chelsea have now won three games in a row, two in the Premier League, and this victory closed the gap to league leaders Manchester United to nine points.
At first glance it seems more like a chasm, impossible to bridge with only 10 games left this season.
But the Blues have a game in hand over Sir Alex Ferguson's side and are still to go to Old Trafford. Should they win both of those matches, the gap could narrow to just three points.
Blue Beauty | Terry set Chelsea on their way to 3-1 win at Blackpool
Equally encouraging for Ancelotti will be United's wobble as their grasp on a 19th top flight title has loosened with two defeats in a row.
The bookmakers and the supporters know that Chelsea are still significant outsiders, that a late push for the title would probably require them to win all their remaining games. But, astonishingly, it could happen.
Next up in the league for the Blues is Manchester City, on March 20, a crucial clash in the context of both clubs' aspirations to finish in the top four and qualify for next season's Champions League.
Should Chelsea win that match at Stamford Bridge, then the odds will shorten on the Blues defending their title and Ancelotti will be forced to accept that they really can make a late push for top spot.
With United on unsteady ground and well-founded questions over Arsenal's mental strength, Chelsea will sense they have a chance but, equally, we know they need all the pieces to fall into place.
"Ancelotti defended Torres' display and expressed his certainty that the record-breaking signing would soon find goalscoring form. He is probably right, the 26-year-old is lacking confidence in front of goal but it will only be a matter of time"
It's certainly not impossible that their rivals will implode, but questions still remain despite what was eventually a comfortable win at Blackpool.
When Chelsea are up against it, when they need some sort of inspiration, you can always rely on the tried and tested double act of John Terry and Frank Lampard.
Terry, the Chelsea captain, headed his side into a 20th minute lead with a bullet header and Lampard made the points safe with two goals in four second-half minutes, first from the penalty spot and then finishing neatly after an expertly timed run.
The England pair have long been seen as Chelsea's heartbeat and once again they stepped up to see the Londoners through, both greeting the final whistle by beating their chests and throwing their shirts to the visiting supporters.
But Ancelotti knows that a genuine title challenge will need moments of quality from his strikers to make the difference in tight games.
That is why he spent £50 million on bringing Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge, but the Spaniard was once again subdued and has now gone five games without scoring a goal for his new club.
His partnership with Didier Drogba was almost non-existent, with both players either ignoring each other or completely mis-reading their partner's intentions.
Increasingly, it appears that Torres was signed to replace rather than complement Drogba, with the Ivorian wearing a pained look long before he was substituted in the 55th minute with a hip injury.
Ancelotti defended Torres' display and expressed his certainty that the record-breaking signing would soon find goalscoring form. He is probably right, the 26-year-old is lacking confidence in front of goal but it will only be a matter of time.
If Torres hits his straps, it could be the catalyst for Chelsea to mount a most unlikely attempt to retain the Premier League after a poor season in which they have already lost seven matches.
For now, the focus must remain securing a fourth-placed finish. A second successive title is a not-so-impossible dream.
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