Friday 19 January 2018

Malouda rescues stuttering Chelsea

Chelsea 2
MSK Zilina 1

Chelsea 2 MSK Zilina 1 Henry Winter

The old, smooth-running Chelsea machine is still not moving at full speed yet but this was an important victory over the whipping boys of the Champions League.

Having fallen behind to Babatounde Bello's strike, Chelsea showed a resilience to hit back with goals from Daniel Sturridge and Florent Malouda.

A point would have been enough to finish top of Group F but a soothing win was required given recent travails on the pitch and uncertainty off it.

On a night with Roman Abamovich absent, it was noticeable that the new assistant coach Michael Emenalo played no part in influencing events from the bench.

Paul Clement assisted manager Carlo Ancelotti, who made the key move of the game.

Until Ancelotti introduced Salomon Kalou at the break, nerves had spread through the Bridge, particularly when Bello struck.

For a half, Chelsea had been lacking leaders, men prepared to take responsibility as the Slovakians grew in confidence against a much-changed Chelsea side. Ancelotti could have formed a high-class team from those stars not starting but Chelsea's coach still had £70m of talent out there as well as home-grown prospects like Josh McEachran.

The regard in which the teenager is held by more senior players was immediately apparent when Malouda kept picking McEachran out in the opening stages, trusting the youngster's touch, inviting the No 46 to ping left-footed passes around.

There was as much space in Chelsea's defence as between Ancelotti and his new assistant coach on the bench when Bello fired the visitors ahead on 19 minutes.

Chelsea looked stunned, almost shocked by the sheer affront of the Slovakian visitors and for the rest of the half Zilina's box was largely under siege, but they stood firm.

Ancelotti replaced the disappointing Gael Kakuta with Kalou at the start of the second half and within six minutes the substitute had crossed the ball for Sturridge to sweep home the equaliser.

Chelsea's class eventually told. When Nicolas Anelka lifted in a cross from the left, Didier Drogba leapt up, powering the ball towards the far post where the sliding Malouda gave Chelsea the lead, with a mere five minutes remaining. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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