Zhirkov set for starring role
© AFP

Carlo Ancelotti insists Yury Zhirkov will play a crucial part in Chelsea's Premier League title defence after the Russian's performance stole the show at Blackburn on Saturday.

Zhirkov was recently warned by Russia coach Dick Advocaat he risked his international place without regular first-team football but the 27-year-old is finally beginning to make his mark at Stamford Bridge. Ancelotti relished Zhirkov's work to provide the cross from which Branislav Ivanovic could hardly miss, heading home in a match Ancelotti admitted his side were "lucky" to win.

Last season he (Yury Zhirkov) showed he was ready when he replaced Ashley Cole. He is a very efficient player and I think he has a future.
Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea manager

Zhirkov moved to west London for £18 million last year but saw his first-team chances restricted by a knee injury before he made an impression by scoring in the win at Spartak Moscow earlier in October. "The goal at Spartak Moscow obviously improved his confidence," Ancelotti said after Chelsea's 2-1 victory at Ewood Park.

"He is playing continuously now so he is showing some good football and he is working for the team. He was consistent last week against Wolves and he was consistent again today. Last season he showed he was ready when he replaced Ashley Cole. He is a very efficient player and I think he has a future," said the Chelsea manager.

Zhirkov's heroics to set up the winner for Ivanovic came less than a minute after the home side should have wrapped up the points themselves with substitute Jason Roberts missing a sitter at the other end. Rovers had failed to make the most of their series of first-half chances against the strangely flat champions, with Benjani Mwaruwari's headed opener all they had to show for their efforts. And Rovers boss Sam Allardyce was left to reflect on three more points lost for his struggling side who continue to put in solid performances without managing to get anything from them.

"We got heavily punished," admitted Allardyce who described Ivanovic's goal as "the ultimate kick in the teeth".

"They're not looking like scoring and we're in the ascendancy then three passes later it's a goal. That outstanding quality can punish you at any time and that's what happened.

"Unfortunately it leaves us in a very dangerous position at this stage of the season. Our performances are good but the points are not good enough. I just hope it doesn't knock the lads' confidence too much," said the Blackburn boss.