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Blues off to European flyer against Bayer


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0,,10268~9989752,00.jpgChelsea 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen

Winning start for Blues as Ballack makes Bridge return

David Luiz scored on his return to the Chelsea side as André Villas-Boas' men recorded a fourth straight opening night win in the UEFA Champions League.

The Brazilian defender superbly fired home just past the hour mark to give the hosts the lead from Fernando Torres' pass - only after a combination of the linesman's flag and some excellent goalkeeping by Leverkusen stopper Bernd Leno had denied the hosts an earlier lead.

And former Valencia winger Juan Mata completed the scoring in stoppage time to add a layer of gloss to an efficient and at-times classy performance as he fired home from close range, with Torres again supplying the assist with some selfless play when through on goal.

All the pre-match build-up had been dominated by the Spaniard's alleged interview with a Spanish television channel, where he supposedly criticised his "old and slow" team-mates. Clear to put any possible past transgressions behind him, el Nino was a lively character throughout and was only denied a first goal since April out of his own error-prone decision making and a number of narrow margins.

Another key talking point centred around the return of Michael Ballack, who had spent four seasons at the club between 2006 and 2010. Returning to a rousing reception, Ballack had claimed to have been treated poorly by the club in the final year of his contract as the board elected to veto then-manager Carlo Ancelotti's demands for a contract extension, resulting in the former Germany captain leaving in acrimonious circumstances alongside Joe Cole.

However, a typically commanding performance from the ex-Blues man justified his reputation as an international football superstar, and whilst his trophy-laden spell at the club did not necessarily produce the German's absolute best, Ballack still endeared himself to Chelsea supporters across the globe and his contribution to the cause was duly noted with a rapturous round of applause.

Refusing to let the big-match environment overwhelm him, Champions League débutante Villas-Boas opted to name a vastly-changed side to the one that was knocked out of the competition by Manchester United in April - the suspended Ramires, the rested John Terry and the injured Didier Drogba amongst the notable absentees. Petr Cech captained the side with Frank Lampard only earning a place on the bench, but Daniel Sturridge's game-winning exploits at the Stadium of Light on Saturday were enough to convince the Blues coaching staff to give the ex-Manchester City forward valuable European experience.

Sturridge did not disappoint, and, in fairness, neither did Chelsea. Though the varied attacking threat was at times a little lacklustre - mainly out of tiredness, rather than half-heartedness - and sometimes the lethargy that had cost Ancelotti his job made miniature cameo appearances, the team's progress from the side that barely managed to overcome West Bromwich Albion in August was clear to see thanks to a performance that was galvanised by the summer additions.

Once more, Juan Mata was the creative hub of the team whilst Raul Meireles was excellent in his distribution and was typically tenacious in the tackle. Unfortunately there was to be no sighting of Romelu Lukaku, who was excluded from the European squad by Villas-Boas, and whilst Sturridge certainly impressed with an effervescent performance, Josh McEachran was again overlooked - begging the question as to whether he should have left on loan before the transfer window slammed shut.

Like the Sunderland match before it, this was a team effort with plenty of outstanding individual showings. Captain for the evening Petr Cech produced a handful of fine saves to record a first club clean sheet since mid-August, whilst Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic were rock-solid in the absence of John Terry. Even the substitutes, the recently much-maligned Frank Lampard included, played a part in a strong team showing - something that will no doubt buoy both Villas-Boas and the paying patrons in a noticeably empty Stamford Bridge.

But whilst Ron Gourlay may be pricing fans out of European matches with a hefty £42 charge per seat, those people inside the ground were treated to a whirlwind start from both teams.

Clearly feeling they had nothing to fear, Leverkusen ought to have taken the lead. They had already demonstrated their intent with a shot from Stefan Kießling after just fourteen seconds, before captain Simon Rolfes saw a header ruled out for an apparent infringement in the penalty area. The referee had blown for a foul on Florent Malouda, but it was an incredibly harsh decision to deny the Germans an early opening goal.

The officials would later return the favour in kind to the Blues.

At the other end, a move of genuine quality that would set the precedent for many a Chelsea attacking move saw the Blues denied a goal in similarly harsh circumstances. Juan Mata's cross was instinctively flicked towards goal by the rampaging Torres, who had earlier seen a hooked volley fizz just wide of the corner of crossbar and post, only for the referee to signal Raul Meireles offside. The Portuguese midfielder had looked to become involved in play but he made no contact with the ball. Again, no goal was awarded.

An incident echoing John Terry's goal against Manchester United in November 2009 at Stamford Bridge, where an offside Didier Drogba had clearly looked to connect with the defender's header yet failed to do so, Torres can count himself unfortunate for some strict refereeing - even if it was ultimately the right decision! Swings and roundabouts, or so they say!

Young Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno was enjoying a busy night between the posts, and after having swatted away a low, close-range effort by Torres from inside the six-yard box, the young stopper was almost caught out by an audacious effort by Florent Malouda as he looked to head home the goalkeeper's loose clearance. Unfortunately the effort dropped feet wide, but the next headed effort was far closer to the target; Torres nodding Malouda's cross just wide of the near post. The Spaniard was in threatening form.

Half-an-hour was showing on the clock when Daniel Sturridge took possession out wide and with everyone expecting the cross, he unleashed a surprise left-foot effort which Leno had to claw out. It was an inspired save by the goalkeeper, who for a second looked like he would be caught out by the instantness of the shot - a moment of brilliance looked as if it would settle this encounter.

Ivanovic was making a nuisance of himself from set-pieces and a flurry of Mata deliveries into the box were finding the Serbian's forehead. Twice he saw headers deflected wide, and a third attempt just before the half-time whistle saw the Chelsea number 2 find Leno's gloves. It was a presentable opportunity - and the man who netted six times last season would have fancied his chances to open the scoring.

The second half followed a similar pattern of counter-attacking play and a lot of attacking endeavour from both sides. However it was the visitors who were the first to truly threaten and former Chelsea man Ballack was at the heart of it all. After volleying a left-footed shot into Peckham, the German star came much closer to opening the scoring when he raced through one-on-one, only for Petr Cech to make a captain's contribution with a fabulous close-range save.

His gloves would again be tested when he parried a Schurrle effort after the visitors dissected the Chelsea defence apart with a brace of give-and-gos on the edge of the box. The West Londoners then came close themselves when another Malouda cross was headed down by Torres, only for Leno to make a smart low save to smother the ball. It was another golden opportunity for the Spaniard but again some fine goalkeeping had denied him a first goal since April.

Chelsea's play from the flanks had been consistently threatening throughout the match but it was through David Luiz that they would open the scoring. Moments after the introduction of Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard for Daniel Sturridge and Raul Meireles respectively - two players who had enjoyed fine evenings - the Brazilian stormed up the pitch, demanded the ball back from Torres and then spectacular caressed the ball into the corner with Leno grasping at thin air.

The goalkeeper - seemingly impossible to beat - had done brilliantly beforehand to deny Sturridge with his final kick of the game; turning the young man's shot onto the post before he departed, and he had only been bested by a truly wonderful cultured finish from the Brazilian centre-half.

Leno then twice denied Mata with a brace of excellent saves. First he plucked the Spaniard's curling effort out of the air after it looked as if the diminutive winger had managed to beat him, before a full-stretch dive saw him paw the ball over. A brilliant save, the 19 year-old was certainly determined to make a name for himself in the absence of usual Leverkusen stopper Rene Adler.

Lampard and Anelka, the two second half substitutes, then went close and Anelka even had the ball in the net. After Leno had beat away a shot from Lampard, Anelka's header was ruled offside after Ashley Cole was judged to be offside when replays confirmed he was quite clearly level. It was the third goal of the evening ruled out for an infringement, and it was also the second wrong decision on the part of the French officials. One-all on that particular front.

But with the final whistle approaching, Torres burst forward, cut inside, and selflessly opted to square to Juan Mata, who had the simplest of tasks to stroke the ball into the bottom corner for his second Chelsea goal to secure a deserved victory and a perfect start to the Blues' Champions League campaign.

The small matter of a visit to Old Trafford is next on the agenda....

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech ©; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Luiz (Alex 75), Cole; Meireles (Lampard 64), Mikel, Malouda; Sturridge (Anelka 64), Torres, Mata.

Leverkusen (4-2-3-1): Leno; Castro, Reinartz, Toprak, Kadlec; Bender (Balitsch 79), Rolfes ©; Schürrle, Ballack (Augusto 65), Sam (Derdiyok 72); Kiessling.

The TalkChelsea.net 'Man of the Match' award goes to Chelsea's number 2 - Branislav IVANOVIC

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we could rotate you with tommy if he would show up more often

Haha wouldn't it be epic to get a match report from Tommy? XD

Cheers guys.

My best report for a few weeks and only 4 rep for it... think I might retire.

You got enough already you greedy c*nt :champions:

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Brilliant stuff as usual Alex!

Ivanovic did have a very commanding game, and really did set-up to the plate as the leader at the back-line with JT's abscence. Wouldn't have seen him as Man of the Match myself, but i guess i am a more attacking minded fan then the defensive :D

I think you have enough rep as it is, but i'll give you another one because i care :whistling:

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