So this is that attacking football we were all promised many months ago! On the back of a 4-0 trouncing of West Ham at the weekend, Chelsea progressed to the Champions League Quarter-Finals on Wednesday night with a comfortable 3-0 win over Olympiakos at Stamford Bridge. The win was never really in doubt, as the Blues pressed the opposition throughout and fully deserved the victory.
An early setback threatened to hinder Avram Grant’s side as Petr Cech was ruled out of the starting line-up after picking up an ankle injury in training. Carlo Cudicini stepped in to take his place. Didier Drogba was also drafted into the starting line-up, as Nicolas Anelka started the game on the bench. They were the only changes from the side which won so impressively at Upton Park on Saturday.
With a 0-0 draw out in Greece setting Chelsea up favourably for the home tie, Grant set his side out to attack. The threat of an away goal for Olympiakos loomed large in many pre-match thoughts, but straight from the whistle, it began to look highly improbable.
Chelsea attacked from the start, playing possession football and toying with their opponents early on.
A Didier Drogba shot was blocked by the desperate defence in the third minute as the Ivorian looked for a quick goal to ease some nerves. It didn’t take long for Michael Ballack to go one step further.
A swift ball into the box from Frank Lampard on the left in the fifth minute was met by the Germany captain, unmarked and unerring with his six-yard header which sailed into the back of the net. 1-0 and Olympiakos’ game plan of containing Chelsea and counter-attacking for that valuable away goal was unravelling at the seams.
Indeed, they could barely get the ball at times. The home side pushed on, and a Joe Cole cross was met by Drogba in the box 18 minutes in, but his finishing let him down on this occasion as the ball flew high into the Shed End.
Seven minutes later, after an uncommon Claude Makelele shot (resulting in an all to common Makelele finish) barely troubled Olympiakos ’keeper Antonios Nikopolidis, Ballack again found himself in space in the opposition area. His powerful shot was saved but spilled into the six-yard box, where Lampard and Salomon Kalou were inexplicably unmarked. The former duly dispatched the ball for 2-0.
It was not an exaggeration to say that Chelsea were coasting at this point. Cudicini’s gloves were probably spotless.
Half-time came and went, and almost straight away, the game was as good as over. A corner came straight across the box, taking a couple of touches on its way, and found Kalou at the back post. He had enough time to take a touch before putting the ball in the back of the net to kill off any slim hopes the Greek side had of a second-half comeback.
Lampard broke through on goal again soon after but his shot dribbled disappointingly wide.
Olympiakos boss Takis Lemonis threw on Fernando Belluschi in the 53rd minute to offer an attacking threat, and he was probably their best player on the night. A 25-yard shot from the Argentinean was saved by Cudicini just minutes after his belated introduction, and seven minutes from the end, another long range effort struck the bar with the Italian ‘keeper stranded and fully beaten.
Cudicini was forced into a double save late on as the away side attempted to save face and leave with less of a whimper, but as the final whistle went, the watching crowd were left in no doubt as to who were the better team.
Olympiakos’ defending was, at times, tragic while Chelsea’s attacking was somewhat sensational. It could, and perhaps should, have been a rout, but a 3-0 win was impressive enough. The only negative to come from the match was a silly booking for Lampard, accused of diving by the referee in the second-half, which could cost him and the club in later stages.
The draw for the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals takes place next Friday, as the journey to Moscow shows no signs of stopping yet.