Thursday 22 February 2018

Anelka wraps up efficient Chelsea success

Chelsea 2
Marseille 0

Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka scores a penalty past Marseille's goalkeeper Steve Mandanda during their Champions League match at Stamford Bridge last night
Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka scores a penalty past Marseille's goalkeeper Steve Mandanda during their Champions League match at Stamford Bridge last night

Henry Winter

AFTER the blip, it was the return of the sign stating 'Business as Usual' at the Bridge.

Chelsea returned to winning ways last night, resilient in defence and occasionally fluid in attack. The English champions scored through John Terry and Nicolas Anelka in the first half and then resisted Marseille moves that never carried the edge of their impassioned supporters.

It was not a great display, but, against decent opponents, it was an important result. If Terry and Anelka claim the headlines, the eye was drawn to the excellent Florent Malouda, the former Lyon player whose running frequently troubled the French champions.

Yuri Zhirkov, often maligned during his spell here, also put in a good shift while Chelsea will take reassurance from a clean sheet for a defence well-marshalled by Terry.

Having called for "nothing less than a win in this battle of the champions'', Terry had given Chelsea the best of starts, striking early. Nothing would silence Marseille's impassioned following, but Terry's goal certainly lifted home spirits after those defeats to Newcastle United and Manchester City.

With Spartak Moscow defeating Zilina earlier in the day, and now presenting Chelsea's foe in the next two rounds of Group F, Terry had known that victory was vital. When Chelsea needed their captain most he delivered, leading by example, settling nerves and showing his enduring danger at set-pieces, this time with his feet.

Malouda, in such magnificent form over the past 12 months, ran at the Marseille defence in that sinewy, silky way of his, forcing a corner after seven minutes. Depleted by injuries, Carlo Ancelotti had placed his trust in Gael Kakuta, so controversially plucked from the Lens academy.

Kakuta, starting on the right, willingly assumed the corner duties, although it wasn't his best of deliveries. Terry responded well, angling his run and flicking the ball left-footed past the sluggish Benoit Cheyrou on the near post.

Cheyrou, brother of the former Liverpool player Bruno, sought to drag Marseille level, firing over when well-placed before Chelsea resumed their attacks, the ball flying between Malouda, Ashley Cole and Zhirkov down the left.

Their triangles swept the ball forward time after time. Zhirkov has been largely disappointing since joining Chelsea, but showed signs of his Russian international class here.

Marseille were constantly on the back foot, constantly alarmed by the movement of Anelka in particular. With the suspended Didier Drogba appearing only for an emotional salute from Chelsea and Marseille supporters at the break, Anelka had taken up the centre-forward duties in Ancelotti's 4-3-3 system.

Anelka's touch and bursts of acceleration caused Marseille's defenders endless problems, while his Paris St-Germain connections drew howls of derision from the away enclosure.

His goal owed much to good fortune. Marseille were incensed when Stephane Mbia was adjudged to have deliberately handled Michael Essien's cross.

However, much that seemed rough justice, no doubt could be detected in Anelka's penalty. He was composure personified: four medium-paced steps in, watching Steve Mandanda commit himself right and placing the ball to the 'keeper's left. There was a determination and concentration to Chelsea's first-half display that thwarted Marseille on their rare forays.

Perhaps feeding on their fans' adrenalin, Marseille emerged for the second half in far brighter mood and Gabby Heinze even attempted an overhead kick, although the ball dropped far too close to Petr Cech to trouble him.

Now it was Chelsea's turn to man the barricades. When Kakuta dawdled, Heinze seized the ball and Alex had to repel the danger. Brandao then unleashed a left-footed drive that Cech clutched out of the air.

Against the run of play, Chelsea almost made it 3-0 when a stunning long-range Alex free-kick almost snapped a Marseille post. Chelsea struck woodwork again with 15 minutes remaining, Essien meeting Cole's cross, beating Mandanda, but not the upright.

Marseille couldn't break down the thick blue line. John Obi Mikel anchored well while Terry and Alex were rocks at the back.

Heinze never gave up the fight, almost reaching a cross. However, life was draining from Marseille and Chelsea felt home and dry.

Ancelotti gave Josh McEachran some more game-time, and gave Mikel a breather. Chelsea's summer strategy of trimming the wage-bill and looking to promote youth again appeared a sensible move. McEachran is a long way from becoming a first-team regular, but he again exuded a maturity beyond his tender years. Next up, Arsenal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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