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[Highlights] Chelsea 4-1 Spartak Moscow: Anelka provides the Spark but Ivanovich steals the show

Nicolas Anelka

Written by Joe Carroll.

Chelsea overcame a drab first half to secure their passage into the Champions League knock-out phase with a 4-1 win over Spartak Moscow. A second half windfall gave the game a gloss that was very much absent in the opening 45.  Goals from forwards Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba on his return to European action following suspension sent Chelsea on their way to victory with a brace from Branislav Ivanovich killing off any chance Nikita Bazehnov thought he had of grabbing a point.

If the build up to this game was uneventful, the first half at least eclipsed it for lack of action.  Onlooking fans were clearly expecting their team to qualify tonight with a flurry of goals, as their previous European encounters have yielded, but it’s fair to say they looked to be let down by a half of few chances.  Nicolas Anelka, who has enjoyed a fruitful spell in the Champions League this season had the games first goal-scoring opportunity but it was a chance made out of the Frenchman’s own craft and ingenuity rather than being a clear cut shot.

With space on the left flank, Anelka bore down on the Spartak full-back.  Rather than relying on his frightening pace, Anelka utilised the quickness of his close ball control, cutting infield in the blink of an eye and curling a rasping effort that narrowly missed the target.  Whilst Chelsea were doing their best to caress the ball into their opponents net, Spartak at the other end were treating the ball with as much care as a blacksmith forges metal.

Speculative efforts from long range were about the best the Russians could muster, albeit Aiden McGeady’s effort in the opening stages that mirrored Anelka’s narrow miss.  Dmitri Kombarov and Meschini Alex were the two culprits, letting fly with numerous efforts in excess of 25 yards.  Only on one occasion did Kombarov manage to refrain from swinging wildly, making a perfect connection this time with a 30 yard effort that stung the hands of Petr Cech.

The game was lacking in talking points; the most consistent statistic available to half-time pundits was Chelsea’s inability to beat the first man from corner kicks.  What appeared to be poor deliveries at first, was made to look like a well practised training ground routine just before half-time.  Yuri Zhirkov failed with no fewer than two corner-kicks from the left hand side, but trotting over to the opposite side, the dimensions were ideal for a left footed in-swinging delivery.

Again the kick was aimed at the front post yet this time it was met by weekend goal hero Ivanovich who glanced the ball ever so sightly goalwards.  With the goal at his mercy, Alex cleared the bar.  The Brazilian might say it came too quickly through a forest of bodies, but he doesn’t need anyone to tell him that it was a glaring miss.

After that ghastly first half, those that stayed for the second didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal.  Starting the move on one side of the pitch, Anelka exchanged passes with Salomon Kalou and finding himself at a tight angle coolly fired past the onrushing keeper.  It was the first one-on-one opportunity the game saw and who else would you want it to be presented to?

Chelsea could now relax, and with the confidence brought about by Anelka’s goal, the team began to find the rhythm that has kept them playing the tune to success so far this season.  Enjoying the ball, Chelsea took their time before they struck with the second goal and just after the hour mark Drogba doubled the lead.

The Ivorian was brought down by Evgeni Makeev who felt the best way to stop Drogba reaching goal was to haul him down.  Taking the responsibility himself, Drogba converted the penalty in convincing fashion with a powerfully accurate left foot bullet.  It was powerful enough to open the floodgates and moments later it was three.

It took a late goal from this Serbian to take all three points at Ewood Park on Saturday, but this time Ivanovich struck with plenty left on the clock and with the stakes not as high.  Meeting a Drogba free kick, Ivanovich rose above all and headed home.  The Serbian looks as settled as any in the Chelsea back line, performing just as well at centre-half or right back.  Whilst some debate which is his best position, there is no argument that he is becoming just as important from set-pieces as captain John Terry who must have looked on enviously from the sidelines.

And if that wasn’t enough, the imposing defender wasn’t quite done for the night.  Spartak failed to deal with another Chelsea attack and the ensuing penalty box game of pinball ended with Ivanovich firing home from close range- what a week it’s been for him after Saturday’s match-winning heroics.

The visitors, to their credit didn’t give up their hopes of finding a goal, and either side of Ivanovich’s brace Bazehnov struck on the counter.  Spartak lacked the cutting edge that would get them anything from this game, with Cech very rarely called upon and whilst the game wont be remembered as an illustration of Europe’s elite football competition, it does mark an important date in Chelsea’s cup calendar.  Qualification assured, the Blues can relax in this competition and fully focus on maintaining their impressive domestic lead.

Player Ratings

Chelsea: Cech 6, Ferreira 6, Alex 7, Ivanovich 8, Cole 6, Mikel 6(McEachran 6), Ramires 5, Kalou 6, Zhirkov 7, Anelka 8(Kakuta 6), Drogba 7(Sturridge 5)

What did you make of Chelsea’s second half performance?…Is Branislav Ivanovich on a par with John Terry?…With qualification in the bag, is this competition a good chance to blood the youngsters?…please leave your comments below…

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