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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Stylish Chelsea reign in the rain

There are fair-weather footballers and there are teams for all seasons. Chelsea, without doubt, belong in the latter category, but their top scorer has long been deemed a luxury on unpleasant days.

In biblical conditions - when Noah would be expected to offer more assistance than Nicolas - Anelka restored Chelsea to the top of the Premier League with a brace. Anonymity and unpredictability remain two of his traits, but he was rather too prominent for Blackburn's liking in the downpour at Ewood Park. ''He's doing a fantastic job,'' said Chelsea assistant coach Ray Wilkins. ''Today he was exceptional.''

This was a match that could have been called off. Instead, thanks to Anelka, Chelsea called the shots. Wilkins explained: ''There was a time in the first half when Mr Foy was a little bit doubtful whether the game would last 90 minutes. Had it continued to rain, I don't think the game would have lasted the duration.''

As the sodden turf held up passes and the spray from shots threatened to blind goalkeepers, three points could have been lost in the flood. There were times when the physios seemed to require a lifeboat to tend to the stricken, but while the conditions rendered it awkward for players and entertaining for spectators, Chelsea continue to sail on serenely.

This was their ninth successive away win in the Premier League, maintaining their 100% record away from Stamford Bridge under Luiz Felipe Scolari. If subdue and conquer is the essence of their success on the road, it is a fine formula. Theirs is a proven gameplan, but it has been altered to incorporate a greater emphasis on attack and is flexible enough to be amended for such vagaries as the Blackburn weather.

Wilkins added: ''A lot of people would have been looking at that game thinking 'it's a tough game at Blackburn; will they fancy it?' But they do have a lot of pride in their performance.''

That was evident, but Scolari's is a team designed to prosper at hostile venues. Chelsea are more capable of absorbing pressure than the Ewood Park pitch was of soaking up rainwater and they have a steeliness that renders them difficult to beat.

They still possess the best defensive structure in the game, one that has equipped them to overcome the absences of Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole and Michael Essien. A reliable back four were bookended by a goalkeeper approaching his brilliant best - Petr Cech, who saved superbly from Carlos Villanueva and Jason Roberts - and an anchor midfielder of energy and authority, in John Obi Mikel.

A striker with speed is essential to any team with aspirations to excel on the counter-attack. Few are quicker than Anelka and with his supply line, Frank Lampard in particular, providing the bullets, he gunned down Blackburn.

Yet a stray shot provided the opener. It was the sort of skiddy surface that ought to encourage players to test goalkeepers. Jose Bosingwa appeared intent on doing just that, but his 40-yard effort clipped Anelka's knee and was diverted beyond Paul Robinson. With the excellent goalkeeper unable to change direction in treacherous conditions, it rolled apologetically over the line.

It appeared an appropriate way to determine the game, but Anelka provided a second goal in more deliberate fashion. He lifted the ball delicately over the diving Robinson after Lampard slid a pass through to him. With Didier Drogba absent from the squad, he increasingly appears the main striker at Stamford Bridge; with 10 goals to date, he is the most prolific in the Premier League.

That total could easily have been 11. Robinson made a trio of outstanding saves to deny Anelka a second successive Premier League hat-trick, while Florent Malouda and Lampard were also thwarted by the in-form keeper. Paul Ince said: ''We know Cech's one of the best in the world, but as far as I'm concerned my goalkeeper is back to his best.''

Chelsea are near their best. Total fluency was impossible to achieve, but the blend of resilience, organisation and high-speed attacking proved potent as they reigned in the rain.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Frank Lampard - Robinson' s rearguard action made him a strong contender, while Chelsea had a handful of candidates, but Lampard provided a typical combination of the efficient and the important. He supplied one goal, struck the bar and was typically industrious in midfield.

BLACKBURN VERDICT: Injuries are impeding them, but Ince is struggling to find a settled side or a winning formula. Their midfield changes by the game, with Brett Emerton the latest man sidelined. Villanueva provided glimpses of his talent, first on the right and then in the middle, but the absence of Roque Santa Cruz in attack was telling.

CHELSEA VERDICT: They have failed to reproduce their best form against Manchester United and Liverpool, but no team is as accomplished at beating the lesser lights. Scolari faces a dilemma in attack when Drogba is fully fit; Anelka's scoring rate means his status as the first choice is endangered.

OFF THEIR PED: The sponsors announced the man of the match for Rovers: Morten Gamst Pedersen. It was met by a chant of ''England's No. 1'' from the Blackburn fans. Robinson prevented this being a rout, and he was the rightful choice.

HANDBAGS AT SIX PACES: This observer had long assumed the genial Ray Wilkins was the most inoffensive man in football. Evidently not, as his pre-match comments riled Paul Ince, who confronted him after the final whistle. ''For him to come out with all that garbage before the game about us being over-physical... I just said to him, before you say something like that, get your facts right.''

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