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Spartak 0-2 Chelsea


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Spartak Moscow 0-2 Chelsea

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Chelsea's quest for European glory remains on course as Nicolas Anelka's 50th goal for the club and a stunning Yuri Zhirkov volley was enough for the Blues to beat Spartak Moscow in the Luzhniki Stadium.

The scene of their 2008 Champions League final heartache, Carlo Ancelotti's side were able to partly exorcise the demons of their penalty shoot-out failure with a comprehensive away performance that highlighted their professionalism despite the absence of a number of key players.

The Blues became only the second British team to beat Spartak on their own turf and did so in fine fashion; a combative defensive display was matched by an equally-composed attack. A better script could not have been written for Yuri Zhirkov's first goal for the club - the ex-CSKA Moscow winger lashing home the most stunning of first-time volleys to silence the vociferous home support. Nicolas Anelka then exhumed composure as he rolled home a delightful second on a night where Chelsea turned Red Square blue.

On a chilly evening in the Russian capital, the football at time warmed the 80,000-strong crowd; Spartak - who were missing their talismanic skipper Alex - produced save after save from Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech but it was the visitors who demonstrated the greater quality in front of goal despite missing key players themselves. With no Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Ramires amongst others, Ancelotti's depleted squad will no doubt be delighted with their third successive three-point haul in the Champions League this term.

But it was not all plain sailing for the Premier League champions - the in-form hosts peppered Cech's goalmouth with a couple of early efforts, one of which produced a fine reaction save from the Chelsea goalkeeper as he denied Brazilian strikerWelliton. Salomon Kalou, making his first appearance for four matches, had the only real chance for the visitors at the other end but hooked over - the same outcome occurring at the other end when Kombarov wastefully lashed over from 16 yards.

An entertaining spectacle, the match was reaching an interesting tempo as both teams exchanged early blows. A series of corners for Chelsea produced two half-chances; first Florent Malouda fired wide under pressure and a Michael Essien header that flew well wide of the target underlining the Blues' ascendancy.

Spartak had begun the game well, clearly more accustomed to the freezing temperatures of the Russian winter as well as the bounce of the Luzhniki's artificial turf, but Ancelotti's injury-stricken side were beginning to exert more dominance on proceedings and that was soon demonstrated in the scoreline.

The goal scorer may not have surprised some; Zhirkov's cameo at Villa Park had been delightful and the few chances the diminutive Russian had been presented with this season had led to accomplished performances. And at the home of his old team's fiercest rivals, it was poignant that Zhirkov's first Chelsea goal would come on the site of an old nemesis. The finish was simply magnificent - the bouncing ball falling invitingly for the Russian to lash home an unstoppable rising volley that left Ukrainian keeper Dykan clawing at thin air.

Clearly buoyed by the confidence of such a spectacularly-achieved lead, Chelsea were beginning to enjoy themselves; Spartak's performance had become slightly more introverted and the atmosphere inside the intimidating stadium had died down a little. However just as the Spartak fans began to find their voice once more, Anelka put paid to their vocal support with a superbly-finished second goal.

Mere moments had passed since he had been denied in a similar one-on-one situation, but the Frenchman did not need a second invitation as he romped forward after being found by Essien who had managed to evade two markers before supplying the Chelsea number 39 with the ammunition necessary. Anelka composed himself, drawing the keeper out before cutting inside and finding the bottom corner with aplomb. A confident finish - it was Anelka's eighth of the season and the fourth of a productive Champions League campaign for the veteran forward.

That sucker punch had arrived on the half-time whistle, and Chelsea's professionalism and stubborn defensive display had successfully worn their opponents down.

Cech, who had been forced into a good early save, was called into action again as Spartak began the second half like a house on fire; Welliton wastefully fired over before John Terry's back denied the Russian attack at source with a brave block. However a deflected effort from former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady extended the Czech into a fine full-length save as the Blues weathered an early Spartak onslaught.

Such a start was to be expected from the home side, though Chelsea were not helping their cause by defending so deeply and inviting trouble - nevertheless Cech was equal to all thrown at him. The Chelsea goalkeeper twice denied Ibson; first a flying save to tip over a stunning volley from the edge of the box before he tipped over another piledriver from the same player despite seeing the ball late through a number of bodies.

McGeady then forced him into a relatively routine save whilst at the other end Chelsea's attempts to rub salt into the wounds almost came when Essien fired goalwards, only to miss the far post by a matter of inches. It had taken super play from Kalou to fashion the chance and Essien should perhaps have done better when well-placed.

That was to be Kalou's last involvement as he was replaced by the youngest of Chelsea's incredibly youthful bench - Josh McEachran replaced the Ivorian whilst Chelsea's oldest outfield replacement, 20 year-old Patrick van Aanholt, was a late change for Ashley Cole. Gael Kakuta had already entered the fray at this point as Ancelotti opted to rest Florent Malouda; the Frenchman having barely missed a minute of action for the Blues this term.

Cech was called into action once more as he saved his side's blushes by managing to clear an under-hit backpass, but Spartak were spent as Chelsea managed to help erase the memory of that fateful evening in May 2008. The demons of that defeat will not be exorcised easily - there was obvious tension amongst the starting eleven even after the conclusion of the match, and only victory in a future final will truly help the Blues forget their misfortune.

Carlo Ancelotti lost a Champions League final on penalties himself in 2005, only to two years later win it with his ageing AC Milan side. A repeat performance of that feat would be more than well-received amongst Chelsea supporters! The road to Wembley is a long one - but it would appear the first steps have been negotiated without much difficult for the Italian's winning machine.

___________________________________________________________________

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry ©, Cole (Van Aanholt 86); Essien, Mikel, Zhirkov, Kalou (McEachran 71), Anelka, Malouda (Kakuta 80)

Spartak (4-5-1): Dykan; Parshivlyuk, Pareja, Suchy, Makeev; Ibson, Sheshukov; McGeady, Ari (Ananidze 84), Kombarov; Welliton

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 18, Yuri ZHIRKOV

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