Bridge Banter: Blues' cleansheet relief

First published in Chelsea Your Local Guardian: Photograph of the Author by

Back in the autumn of 2004, Chelsea had the wind in their sails as they powered to their first league title in half a century.

The sense is growing that Manchester City have the same belief and momentum this season.

Unstoppable they are not, but – as was the case for the Blues in 2004 and 2005 – City have quality cover in all positions and there is a confidence in the team’s play which borders on arrogance.

City are now nine points ahead of the Blues following a weekend in which Chelsea won away at Blackburn, and City triumphed – by the skin of their teeth – at Loftus Road.

Even Carlos Tevez’s stand-off with manager Roberto Mancini seems a minor distraction, although Mario Balotelli’s, er, combustibility may yet be a factor in the outcome of this mesmerising, high-scoring season.

Can anyone catch them? Mathematically, of course, anything’s possible. Manchester United are keeping touch with the front-runners, without producing stirring performances; Spurs are immensely entertaining and strong; Newcastle must surely fade when they face the front-runners in the coming weeks; and Arsenal are still breathing down everyone’s necks.

And Chelsea? The Blues took a serious step in the right direction at Ewood Park, and it wasn’t just because of Frank Lampard’s winning goal.

Finally, for the first time in 10 successive Premier League matches, Chelsea kept a clean sheet.

It has been a dismal run for the Blues’ defence, and came as an immense relief to both AVB and Petr Cech, who ended up with a bandaged nose to accompany his protected skull. At this rate he’ll end the season sitting between the sticks in a wheelchair, with one arm in a sling.

International breaks are often an unwelcome distraction. But for the Blues this gap couldn’t have come at a better time. The club has to focus on the targets that matter, and forget distractions which play into the hands of rivals.

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