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APOEL 0-1 Chelsea


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awayshirt.jpgWednesday 30 September 2009, UEFA Champions League, Stadium GSP, Cyprus

Nicolas Anelka's first-half strike was enough for a below-par Chelsea to clinch victory against APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus.

The Frenchman fired home from the edge of the box from Juliano Belletti's precise cut-back on eighteen minutes to hand Chelsea all three points, but the Blues made more work than necessary against the Cypriot champions, who offered relatively little in a low-key first period. However, the hosts rallied in the second half, and the terrific, vociferous support of the home fans encouraged Nicosia to attack, but a stubborn defensive performance by John Terry and his well-marshalled defence ensure Carlo Ancelotti's side returned to London on the back of a first win on foreign soil since November 2007, when Chelsea beat Rosenborg 4-0 in Trondheim, Norway.

But despite a comfortable first forty-five minutes, Chelsea were forced to work in the second half through a combination of an improved Nicosia showing and complacency amongst the visiting side. However, the result will be a pleasing one for Ancelotti, and means Chelsea have taken maximum points from their opening Champions League fixtures without conceding a single goal.

The Chelsea boss made just one change to the side that began the match against Porto earlier in the month, with Juliano Belletti coming in for the injured Michael Ballack. The return to fitness of Ashley Cole was a welcome boost ahead of kick-off, and the return to action of Deco was confirmed when the Portuguese midfielder was named as one of Chelsea's substitutes, along with fellow long-term absentee Joe Cole and young forward Daniel Sturridge. There was still no Didier Drogba and José Bosingwa due to suspension, and John Mikel Obi and Alex were still troubled by injury.

The game began at a decent tempo, with Ashley Cole's endeavours down the left flank producing a corner for the white-jerseyed visiting side with just thirteen seconds on the clock, but Lampard's dangerous delivery into the area was well-cleared by a Nicosia defender. At the other end, Branislav Ivanovic had brought down Mirosavljevic inside the Chelsea half, but Petr Cech made a commanding punch deep inside his area to clear any immediate danger from Kontis' delivery.

In response, Chelsea looked to hit the Cypriot team on the counter-attack; holding back until the hosts came forward before advancing themselves. They almost did so on 9 minutes when Ivanovic burst down the right flank before teeing up Michael Essien, but the Ghanaian's effort was wide of the mark. It was a decent strike by Essien on his weaker left foot, but Chelsea were struggling to find top gear against the persistent pressing of the Nicosia defenders. Ivanovic was then nearly on the end of Lampard's freekick, before a well-engineered move was wasted by Kalou's wayward finish; the Ivorian off-target with his hapless stab at the ball.

But the next time Chelsea went forward, Anelka would make no mistake; curling in a beautiful effort from 15 yards from Belletti's pass. Kalou began the move, and the Brazilian still had a lot to do as he burst into the area, but his pull back to Anelka was perfectly-weighted, and an assured, confident side-foot finish from Anelka saw the ball nestle in the corner. It would prove to be the stroke of quality that would separate the two teams.

Charalambides then had an effort blocked by Cole as Nicosia looked to get back into the game, but John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were imperious at centre-half; clearing every loose ball and stray pass and denying ever foray forward by the Cypriot team. The Blues had begun to take their foot off the gas, but Malouda's effort offered a warning to the hosts that Chelsea were waiting to pounce upon their prey.

The second half began at the same breakneck pace of the first period, and it took a brilliant leap from Ashley Cole to clear Kontis' swinging delivery from an early Nicosia corner, won after Ivanovic had blocked Charalambides's run. The hosts had been offered a route back into the game, however, and signs of complacency were beginning to creep into Chelsea's play even at such an early stage in the second half. The hosts were growing in confidence and the home fans becoming gradually louder; Chelsea were suddenly involved in a keenly-contested match of football.

Frank Lampard found the side-netting with one shot before planting a right-footed effort wide of the post. At the other end, Petr Cech had done superbly to block a deflected effort from Mirosavljevic, whose shot had taken a slight nick off John Terry's left boot. The Czech had to readjust his feet quickly, and did well to block and then volley away the loose ball.

Lampard and Ivanovic then played a one-two to set the England midfielder into a bit of space inside the area but his shot was wayward, whilst Carvalho did brilliantly to head away another Kontis corner despite being under immense pressure inside his six yard box. Chelsea piled forward and looked to make Nicosia pay for their missed chances, but from Ivanovic's low cross, Malouda could only tamely poke straight at the goalkeeper after Lampard had lost his footing when he looked to belt the ball home.

The busy Charalambides was then withdrawn, only seconds after heading wide under pressure from Ivanovic from a cross from the right wing. The Cypriot wingr, in his second spell with his hometown club, looked to get on the end of a whipped delivery from Kosowski but could not find the angle between post and goalkeeper and instead headed well over the crossbar.

Chelsea were sitting back and therefore inviting pressure, and it took a number of strong catches from Petr Cech to relieve the pressure on the visiting side, and John Terry's clearing header from a late Nicosia corner proved to be the last action of the match as Chelsea clung on to a very valuable away win in Cyprus. The performance was lacking but in a result business, three points are welcomed by Ancelotti in his bid to win the Champions League. More must be done to make amends for the embarrassment of Wigan on Saturday, but this was not bad for starters. Two played, two won, with no goals conceded. Now to the small matter of Liverpool...

___________________________________________________________________

Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry ©, A Cole; Belletti (Deco 67), Essien, Lampard; Kalou, Malouda; Anelka

Nicosia (4-2-3-1): Chiotis; Poursaitides, Kontis, Grncarov, Haxhi; Nuno Morais, Michail ©; Charalambides (Jean Paulista 84), Hélio Pinto, Alexandrou (Kosowski 57); Mirosavljevic

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 26 - John Terry

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