Friday 23 February 2018

Anelka on the double to tee goal-hungry Blues up for latest rout


Ian Chadband IN ZILANA

THE concept of Champions League fairytales in these oh so predictable group stages was dismantled here as Carlo Ancelotti's Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum brigade stamped all over little Zilina's dreams in the same greedy manner in which they have been despatchingPremier League small fry this season.

No easy games at Europe's top table? Hmm. Four more goals – two from Nicolas Anelka and one apiece for the quite magisterial Michael Essien and Daniel Sturridge – continued the English champions' quite irrepressible opening to the season. Twenty one goals in five matches now; at this rate, the record 142 they netted last season could even be at their mercy.

You had to feel for Slovakian champions Zilina, who played their hearts out and never gave up on the biggest night in their history. Chelsea will have far, far tougher nights, but here, at the same venue where their Roman empire began under Abramovich, was another tantalising vision of why their owner's dream could be realised at Wembley next May.

Even as the Pod Dubnom stadium filled to the rafters with its 11,000 full house on the biggest night in the club's history, there was never any sense that Chelsea were going to be offered a walk on the wild side here.

Europe's version of giant-killing hardly appeared likely to get a look-in at a neatly appointed little stadium, apparently unrecognisable from the last time Chelsea played here seven years ago, and on an immaculate playing surface.

All those visions of having to battle it out in grim east European outposts on grim evenings evaporated. Welcome to hell? It was all so remarkably civilised in this old university town that even though Chelsea's security folk had demanded the team take the bus to the stadium – a mere 150 yards from their hotel – one suspected that if they had walked there like normal human beings, they would have been handed bouquets en route.

Just for a few early moments, though, Chelsea's numerous on-pitch gifts from their hosts had to wait. Zilina had lost only the first of their previous 14 matches this season and, bright and moving the ball around confidently, they swiftly offered discomfort to the dawdling Yuri Zhirkov, who put his side in trouble by giving away a corner.

When the home side's sparky Nigerian midfielder Babatounde Bello whipped the ball across the face of the Chelsea goal, a swift settler was urgently needed for the visitors. It came in the shape of a marvellously executed goal on the counter-attack from Essien, who started it by finding Anelka on the left and then, rampaging forward unmolested to meet the return pass once Malouda had stepped over the ball, hammered home just inside the post.

Zilina's ardour, for a while, had to be applauded. Petr Cech made one uncharacteristic fumble from a Robert Jez free-kick and Momodou Ceesay, an awkward, ungainly 6ft 5in Gambian striker who spent a few days at Chelsea's academy a couple of years ago, almost set up Bello, whose weak headed finish spared Chelsea’s blushes.

Then, Chelsea turned spoilsports. For all their enterprise in attack, Zilina's porous rearguard was again exposed when Malouda's deft through ball found Anelka and his left-foot finish, though weak, was still enough to roll almost apologetically beneath the hapless Zilina ’keeper Martin Dubravka and into the corner of the net.

When John Terry's header from Malouda's corner then hit the bar and Anelka stabbed in the rebound, the ground had already gone so cathedral quiet that you could hear every word being uttered on the field.

Terry himself was the most vociferous, having a whale of a time as he surged forward, suddenly even popping up in the opposition area like some kamikaze winger. Bruised ribs from the weekend fray with West Ham were never going to keep him from turning out in the latest chapter of what sounds like the captain's most enduring and passionate quest following that missed penalty in the 2008 final.

Maybe he will find his dream if Chelsea continue in this vein. Sturridge, described by Ancelotti as the fastest striker he had ever seen, demonstrated that pace, scoring a marvellous fourth, latching on to Yossi Benayoun's inch-perfect through ball, rounding the ’keeper and slotting home.

Zilina kept plugging away and no one could begrudge them their moment when Cech misjudged a cross from the right and Branislav Ivanovic's inadvertent header towards his own goal was gleefully pounced on by Tomas Oravec.

The home side kept fighting and Chelsea got a little ragged, but the game became such a foregone conclusion that they were even able to give a brief outing to their teenagers Gael Kakuta and Joshua McEachran, a 17 year-old who thus became the first player born after the inception of the Champions League to play in the competition. His elders look in the mood to break plenty of other records, too. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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