Chelsea’s fourth win in a row came courtesy of goals from Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba, as the Blues shot to the top of our group on a clear night at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea were without Ashley Cole and John Terry due to injury, which meant a first start of the season for England’s best left back, Wayne Bridge. Paulo Ferreira switched to his natural position of right back; Juliano Belletti the unlucky man to miss out. Alex started once more after his screamer against Boro, whilst there was also a recall for Makelélé in place of Mikel in midfield. The attacking trio of Joe Cole, Florent Malouda and Drogba were retained.
Schalke could only name six substitutes before kick off, and that soon became five as Kevin Kuranyi went down injured in the warm up, replaced in the line-up by the tall striker Larsen. German wideman Gerald Asamoah and former Rangers attacker Peter Lovenkrands would provide the width for the German side.
Within a minute of the kick off, Bridge was already involved, winning a corner, taken by Joe Cole. Although cleared, Chelsea took the lead within two minutes. Lampard’s long ball was flicked on by Drogba, to Malouda. The French winger turned Rafinha inside, then out, before hitting a well struck shot towards the Schalke goal. Goalkeeper Neuer should have kept it out however, but the youngster somehow let the shot slip through his arms and legs and into the back of the net.
On eight minutes it was Bridge involved once more, making a brilliant last ditch tackle on the strangely named Uruguayan, Carlos Grossmuller, in the penalty box.
Lampard and Drogba both missed headed half-chances, after Asamoah did likewise for Schalke. Essien headed over from a Malouda corner, before Schalke thought they’d equalised. Grossmuller tucked the ball past Čech, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside.
Just after the half hour, Chelsea, playing some upbeat football, almost doubled their lead. Malouda curled a tempting cross onto the head of Essien, whose header was well placed, but held at the first attempt by a full stretch Neuer. With five minutes left of the half, Grossmuller’s header was easily saved by Čech, before Chelsea slowed the tempo down, content to take a 1-0 lead into the break.
Chelsea emerged from the break and almost immediately put the game to bed, with a piece of beautiful attacking football. Lampard’s dink into space was picked up by the onrushing fullback Ferreira. The notoriously defensive right back surged forward leaving Joe Cole behind, before curling an enticing cross to the near post, which was athletically turned in by Drogba’s diving header as he glanced the ball past the helpless Neuer. In that swift movement, Chelsea had blown Schalke off the park, and in doing so, gave themselves an insurmountable advantage.
Neuer comfortably held a long range Essien effort, before Schalke had their best chance of scoring, on the hour. Grossmuller, easily the visitor’s best player, crossed dangerously into the Chelsea area, with Larsen able to beat the less than impressive Alex to the header, only for it to crash off the far post and straight into the arms of a grateful Čech.
The first subs of the game soon followed; Rakitic replacing Asamoah for Schalke, and then nine minutes later Mikel replacing Essien for Chelsea. On 71 minutes, a deflected strike from the strangely named German, Jermaine Jones, flew inches wide of the Chelsea goal, and after that, chances were few and far between.
Grossmuller was replaced after an eye catching stint, Azaouagh being his replacement, and in the 80th minute, Bajramovic replaced Dario Rodriguez- unpopular in my country- who seemed to pick up an injury. Alex should have been sent off after his lazy back pass led to him pulling back Larsen, however play on was the call. Parity was restored moments later when Drogba was denied a clear penalty after being hacked down.
There was no real siege at goal from Schalke, despite possession and set piece opportunities; Avram Grant eventually taking the opportunity to replace Malouda with a fit again Salomon Kalou. Drogba shot wide very late on after a lucky break, and after negotiating injury time, Chelsea notched up a first home win for Grant, having now gone 310 minutes without conceding. Almost as an afterthought, Shevchenko went on in place of Cole, playing a grand total of three and half minutes, including stoppage time. It was hardly time to give Mr. Abramovich a birthday goal, as the boss turned 41.
He and the fans should be pleased with the performance though, as we place ourselves in position to guarantee advancement to the knockout stages. Chelsea’s resurgence is gathering momentum, and with England’s best left back now in the side, and Henk Ten Cate on board, expect the Chelsea bandwagon to keep on rolling.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Belletti, Carvalho, Alex, Bridge; Essien (Mikel 70), Makelélé, Lampard (c); J Cole (Shevchenko 89), Drogba, Malouda (Kalou 83).
Schalke (4-2-1-3): Neuer; Rafinha, Westermann, Bordon (c), Rodriguez (Bajramovic 81); Jones, Ernst; Grossmuller (Azaouagh 76); Lovenkrands, Larsen, Asamoah (Rakitic 60).
Referee Peter Frojdfeldt