Chelsea travelled to Moscow on Tuesday evening hoping to exorcise the ghosts of the Luzhniki Stadium where we suffered that painful penalty shootout defeat, to Manchester United in 2008, in this same competition.
Chelsea travelled without Drogba, Lampard, Alex, Bosingwa and lost Ramires to injury before the match. Therefore it was a relief to see Essien and Ashley Cole in the starting, eleven for the visitors, who lined up in a familiar 4 3 3 with Anelka, Zirchov and the returning Kalou leading the attack.
The Moscovites fancied their chances before an 80, 000 sell out crowd. Their average attendance is 40, 000 so they were ‘only there for the Chelsea.’
Both teams went into this match with a 100% record in this season’s premier club competition, so something had to give.
Chelsea started well with some neat one touch passing without ever threatening the home goal. Then Spartak showed their attacking intent with Komarov firing over from 15 yards, after a mazy run by the right-back and Cech saved well at his near post from the prolific Welliton.
Chelsea needed to up the tempo and did so with Malouda firing wide. The Londoners enjoyed the majority of possession and the travelling army of blue and white went into raptures on the 23rd minute when Zirchov volleyed an absolute screamer into the home net with the keeper given no chance. An innocuous ball over the top for Anelka was headed clear and Zirchov met it on the volley with unbelievable ‘tekkers’. What a goal for the ex CSKA player which must have gone down like a ‘Scousers Boston tea party’ with the local support .His first competitive goal for Chelsea in 36 appearances.
Chelsea continued to press and Anelka went close twice, first with a left footed effort just wide and then one on one with the keeper following a Steven Gerald-esque poor back pass. However the ever impressive Frenchman was not to be thwarted when he practically killed the tie with a well taken second for the Blues in the 43rd minute. Essien picked up the ball in the centre circle and powered past two defenders to feed Anelka on the left. Anelka cut inside and drilled the ball between two covering defenders into the gaping net. Chelsea were two nil up at half-time and in total control.
As expected Spartak came out with all guns blazing after a verbal volley from their’ Freddie Starr look-alike’ manager. Cech was, however, equal to anything the home side could throw at him. He saved well from ex-Celtic man McGeady and even more impressively from Ibson twice in as many minutes. Chelsea weathered the Russian storm and took the sting out of the match with the highly impressive Mikel running the show in front of the imperious JT .Mikel is turning into a very, very useful player and for me was man-of-the-match with some to spare.
Chelsea cruised the last 15 minutes and gave run outs to McEachran, Kakuta and Van Aanholt who replaced Kalou, Malouda and Ashley Cole. By the way, McEachran is the first ever player to play in the Champions League who was born after the inception of the competition. Disregarding 25 year old Russ Turnbull, Chelsea’s bench was made up, entirely, of players 20 years old or younger!
All in all a very polished and professional performance by the Blues which has all but continued our record of qualifying from each group stage, whenever we have been in the competition. This result will not send shock waves around Europe, however, Chelsea march on and that long road to Wembley is now that little bit shorter.