Zola Rolls Back The Years To Seal Comeback (Sky Sports)
Blackburn Rovers 2 Chelsea 3
Stephen Turner reporting
The rejuvenated Italian, back at the heart of the Blues attack after a season of sporadic involvement, took the reins after the break of a game which had threatened to run away from the visitors.
A Rovers side showing scant regard for the absence of inspirational Irishman Damien Duff tore into Chelsea from the first whistle and were rewarded with the lead courtesy of David Dunn's penalty.
An excellent equaliser from Jesper Gronkjaer looked like only a temporary blip on Rovers' stampede to victory when David Thompson's first goal in the blue-and-white quarters restored the lead before the break.
But Gronkjaer's continuing menace down the right flank, combined with Zola's brain and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's muscle eventually gave Chelsea a firm foothold, and though Blackburn were a threat right until the end, their finishing failed to match the little Sardinian's.
Graeme Souness has shelled out almost 10million to reunite the once-formidable forward partnership of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, but for the moment it is a misfiring match-up.
Cole is yet to score this season, though his speed of thought and movement remains top class, and Souness may start to worry if he continues to squander the kind of half-chance he blazed over Carlo Cudicini's bar early on.
Yorke was quieter, though he too went close with a left-foot whistler from 20 yards and a close-range effort which brought the best out of Cudicini but should have left the keeper no chance.
But Rovers' likeliest goalscorers on the night were midfielders, and Dunn's cool spot-kick following Celestine Babayaro's trip on Lucas Neill was followed by a low drive from the lively Thompson which wrong-footed Cudicini.
In between, Gronkjaer belted a pass from Hasselbaink beyond Friedel's reach to level matters, though just a minute earlier only Mario Melchiot's goal-line clearance prevented Garry Flitcroft doubling his side's lead.
But the pace of Rovers' game dropped slightly after half-time and Claudio Ranieri's began to offer more going forward, even if the second leveller came after a comedy of Chelsea errors.
First Hasselbaink appeared to lose his footing when clean through on Friedel's goal, then Gronkjaer sliced his follow-up effort, but as the home defence waited for the ball to run out, Mario Stanic cut the ball back for Zola to head home.
If that was scrappy the winner more than made amends, Zola working himself a yard of space before curling a sumptuous 25-yarder high to Friedel's left.
Substitute Keith Gillespie volleyed against Cudicini's legs as Rovers pressed, but Chelsea hung on and remain unbeaten and only two points off the top.
Blackburn, meanwhile, need to start turning performances into points.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea) - this may be his Premiership swansong, but Zola is showing the kind of form which made him a pioneer for foreign footballers in England.
Neill, Short, Taylor, Johansson (Grabbi 82), Dunn, Tugay (Gillespie
64), Flitcroft, Thompson, Cole, Yorke.