Carlo Ancelotti's decision to leave out Fernando Torres paid off as Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou fired Chelsea up to second in the Barclays Premier League with a 3-1 win over Birmingham.
The champions became Manchester United's closest challengers, moving to within six points of the leaders and giving themselves a glimmer of hope of retaining their crown.
Once again looking far more comfortable in their tried-and-trusted 4-3-3 formation, Malouda and Kalou scored impressive first-half goals and the former struck again before Sebastian Larsson netted a consolation from the penalty spot.
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