Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ivanovic double seals Blues' stroll touches to book place in knock-out stages

Defender adds finishing
Chelsea 4
Spartak Moscow 1

Spartak Moscow's Aiden McGeady (L) puts his hands on his hips as Nicolas Anelka celebrates his goal for Chelsea. Photo: Reuters
Spartak Moscow's Aiden McGeady (L) puts his hands on his hips as Nicolas Anelka celebrates his goal for Chelsea. Photo: Reuters
Branislav Ivanovic wheels away after completing the scoring with Chelsea's fourth of the night. Photo: Reuters

Henry Winter

SOME strikers in London are welcome. After fans had endured problematic journeys to the Bridge with industrial action on the Tube, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba sent Chelsea smoothly on their way into the knock-out stages of the Champions League, their progress accelerated by a fine double from Branislav Ivanovic.

Carlo Ancelotti's side were unconvincing before the break but turned on the style in the second half. Anelka's finish was terrific, the ball threaded through the eye of a very small needle, while Drogba's penalty brooked no argument. Ivanovic's goals were a welcome bonus, a typically powerful header and then a neat shot.

On a good night for the Blues, who now need only a point to secure top spot in the group, England's 2018 World Cup bid team may hope that Fifa are aware of events here. In a briefly worrying second-half moment, Spartak Moscow fans lobbed some bottles at their Chelsea counterparts, and one chubby pitch invader also emerged from the away end. Chelsea stewards caught him eventually, just as Ancelotti's players took control of Spartak after a supine first half.

The result means Ancelotti can rest more players for the remaining two fixtures, keeping them fresh for the Premier League.

After the fireworks at the Lane the night before, this had been a damp squib at the Bridge until Anelka's magnificent finish shortly after the break, a strike soon followed by Drogba's penalty and Ivanovic's header. Until then most energy had been expended by the Spartak fans, two of whom rolled up their sleeves to flex tattooed biceps like Muscovite Popeyes. It was one of the few interesting moments of a desultory opening 45 minutes.

Until Anelka struck, Chelsea's usual fluency was seen only fitfully.Michael Essien's drive in midfield was sorely missed in the first half. The Ghanaian was rested by Ancelotti, who also kept John Terry in reserve with one eye on the trip to Liverpool on Sunday. Terry was so unused to being a sub that he forget to don a Uefa bib when warming up.

Spartak were hardly high class but Chelsea moved as freely as the Tube system. Mistakes crept into the English champions' play. A loose pass from John Obi Mikel, the ball played blind across midfield, gifted possession to Valeri Karpin's side.


Here was a situation that the flaxen-haired Karpin would have enjoyed in his own playing pomp. Spartak poured forward, the ball soon at the clever feet of Aiden McGeady, who failed to trouble Petr Cech. Chelsea woke up, briefly putting together some promising ventures. Anelka worked himself a yard of space, wrongfooting Spartak's defence and curling a shot just wide.

Ramires cruised through the middle, releasing Drogba down the inside-right channel. Yuri Zhirkov then swung in a corner met by Drogba, whose flicked header flew over. The English fans sighed in frustration. The Russians loved it.

The noise emanating from the away corner increased when Spartak's Alex went close with a shot and then withstood a late challenge from Mikel. The half ended on a fitting note, Chelsea's Alex miscuing horribly from a yard out from Zhirkov's scorer. Things could only get better. Fortunately for Chelsea they did.

Ancelotti shook his players up at the break, sending them out teeming with purpose. Anelka created and finished the first. Finding Salomon Kalou with a good pass, Anelka darted down the inside-right channel. Kalou found him well but there was still much to do.

Andriy Dykan sped out but left a chink of light between him and his left-hand upright. Anelka needed no second invitation, drilling the ball through the tiny window of opportunity. It was a brilliant goal, a strike that almost defied geometry.

A wave of relief flooded through the Bridge. Chelsea were now relaxed, now far more fluid in their attacking. Drogba cut in from the left, twisting this way and that and panicking Evgeni Makeev, Spartak's right-back, into fouling him. Drogba punished such an intemperate challenge with a penalty that flew past Dykan.

Shortly before the midway point of the second half, Chelsea fully confirmed their presence in the knock-out stages. Drogba lifted in a free-kick from the right and there was Ivanovic, so deadly in the air, heading home.

Karpin cursed the fates, but he could also have admonished his markers. Nicolas Pareja had singularly failed in his assignment of sticking to Ivanovic.

The tie won, the qualification secured, Ancelotti rang the changes, sending on his young guns in Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta and Daniel Sturridge.

The Russians also sent on somebody, a Spartak fan ambling on before slipping over in the centre-circle.

A more impressive run came from the visitors' Welliton, the striker darting down the right with four minutes remaining and crossing for the unmarked Nikita Bazhenov to score the first goal Cech has conceded at the Bridge in 956 minutes.

Bzehenov, who had replaced Ireland's McGeady after 80 minutes, looked offside but Chelsea were in no mood for complaining, particularly as they added a fourth. When Kalou crossed, Sturridge tried to hook the ball goalwards but it eventually rebounded to Ivanovic, who finished in a confident style that Anelka or Drogba would have admired.

Progress to the Champions League knock-out stages guaranteed, Chelsea can now focus on keeping the home fires burning through the winter. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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