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Sturridge and Malouda seal come-back victory


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Chelsea 2-1 MŠK Žilina

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Tuesday 23 November, UEFA Champions League, Stamford Bridge

Chelsea's young side set about putting a forgettable fortnight behind them with a come-from-behind victory over Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina.

Babatounde Bello gave the unfancied visitors a shock half-time lead after a smart first-time finish following neat interplay on the edge of the Chelsea box, but the hosts rallied and achieved an early second half reply through Daniel Sturridge's well-taken finish. Didier Drogba then saw a free-kick spectacularly touched onto the woodwork whilst Patrick van Aanholt nearly capped a full European début in magical fashion when his long-range blockbuster hit the frame of the goal.

However Chelsea's dominance was not to be denied, and Florent Malouda poked home a late winner from captain Didier Drogba's knock down to not only continue Chelsea's perfect European form this campaign but also to confirm qualification as group winners - all ahead of a previously difficult-looking tie to Marseille that suddenly appears to now be a less-taxing fixture.

The result will come as a welcome relief for Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti, whose side had lost three of their last four matches coming into this game against a Žilina side who had suffered just a single defeat domestically all campaign. However with qualification already guaranteed, Ancelotti was able to field a swathe of his talented youngsters, all of whom put in impressive and assured displays across the pitch.

A win against the spirited Slovakian champions will not completely silence the doubters even in spite of an accomplished Chelsea performance, but the result nonetheless will improve the mood at Stamford Bridge after a harrowing two-week period which has seen them surrender a five-point lead in the Premier League and suffer the surprise loss of assistant coach and fans' favourite Ray Wilkins.

The excellent second half fight-back will no doubt offer much confidence to Ancelotti's troubled and injury-stricken squad ahead of a daunting trip to Newcastle at the weekend, and the positives that can be taken from the performances of Sturrdidge, van Aanholt and Josh McEachran in particular will come as welcome news to the beleaguered Chelsea coach. Chelsea supporters will also find some solace in seeing the ghost of their last home match - a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Sunderland - firmly banished to the confines of memory.

The first half was ultimately quite frustrating for Chelsea - who, incidentally had failed to find the net in three of their last four matches. After a quiet opening spell, Ancelotti's youthful side were beginning to impose themselves to a greater extent but suffered a shock setback when Bello superbly fired the ball beyond second-choice goalkeeper Ross Turnbull.

It was typical of Chelsea's recent form to suffer such a set-back, and a cruel irony could be seen in the give-and-go fashion of the goal which saw Bello combine wonderfully with Robert Jez before turning and poking first-time into the corner with aplomb; a goal that was trademark SW6.

Stamford Bridge had been stunned into silence save for the pocket of boisterous visiting supporters from Slovakia. The players' response to going a goal down was slightly more vocal than the disapproving support, with Sturridge at the heart of everything good in an attacking sense; the young striker first poking wide before bringing an excellent save out of the inspired Martin Dubravka.

Turnbull had to be on his toes to emulate his opposite number when he prevented the visitors from inexplicably extending their lead with a good close-range save from Majtan, but Chelsea were beginning to turn the screw. First Malouda narrowly fired over from long-range with a scintillating drive, whilst Sturridge missed by an equally minute margin when he hooked an effort from inside the six yard box just over. Malouda then saw a deflected drive arc narrowly wide of the target as a frustrating first half came to a close.

The introduction of Salomon Kalou after the break for the effervescent Gael Kakuta instantly turned the game for Chelsea as they came out buoyed by an improved performance following their shock early concession. It was the Ivorian who fashioned the Blues' first chance of the second period but he unfortunately failed to sufficiently control his strike from range, although his second major involvement paid more fruitful dividends.

Picking up the ball, his low, teasing cross evaded the Žilina defence and found the unmarked Sturridge at the far post who duly tapped the ball through the legs of Dubravka. It was a goal that was deserved for the young England striker, who had also scored in Chelsea's 4-1 rout in the return fixture on the opening day of the competition. Suddenly Chelsea players were soaring with confidence, and a siege mentality ensued as the Blues looked to complete an impressive turnaround.

Patrick van Aanholt was enjoying an accomplished game at left-back and his involvement in the match increased as the match progressed; on 53 minutes he delivered a ball that Drogba could only head at the goalkeeper whilst Ramires unleashed a monstrous, swerving effort from distance that narrowly flew wide of the target. The young Brazilian then saw a second deflected effort test Dubravka as Chelsea continued to turn the screw.

Drogba then hit the woodwork mere moments later when his expertly-struck free-kick was finger-tipped by the goalkeeper onto the post, and when Bruma returned the ball, Ivanovic headed over from six yards. With the visitors hanging on by the skin of their teeth, the Žilina players could breathe a collective sigh of relief as the ball would not sit for the rampaging Sturridge inside the box. Sturridge eventually bent an opportunistic shot around the post before van Aanholt left the goalpost shaking when his thunderous drive from 25 yards clipped the frame of the goal.

Chelsea were looking increasingly menacing, though chances began to become more infrequent as Sturridge was replaced to a standing ovation. Nicolas Anelka replaced the young Englishman to pose a very different threat to the Žilina defence, whilst the Blues continued to pepper Dubravka's goal with a number of efforts; the most notable from Malouda who rifled the ball into the side netting when he perhaps should have found the top corner.

But Chelsea were simply not to be denied a deserved winner, and it came from the boot of Malouda who made amends for his earlier misfire with a simple close-range finish. There was perhaps a sense of inevitability about the way in which the goal was crafted; on a night where it was supposed to be the youngsters who shone, it ironically was the experienced Chelsea frontline who won the game in a single passage of sublime simplicity and quality.

Anelka's cross into the box was headed down in typical Drogba fashion for Malouda to tuck away ahead of Dubravka to ensure a much-needed win was delivered to the paying customers. A roar of jubilant cheering - with one or two sighs of relief thrown in for good measure - erupted around Stamford Bridge as Žilina's brave resistance was thwarted at the death. There was even time for young Jacob Mellis to make his Chelsea bow before the game expired to a round of appreciate applause from the Blues faithful - a win was what was needed, and a win was what was delivered.

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Chelsea (4-3-3): Turnbull; Ferreira, Bruma, Ivanovic, Van Aanholt; Ramires, McEachran (Mellis 90+1), Malouda; Kakuta (Kalou 46), Drogba, Sturridge (Anelka 73)

MŠK Žilina (4-4-2): Dubravka; Angelovic, Piacek, Pecalka, Gergel; Jez, Guldon, Bello, Vladavic (Rilke 89); Majtan (Poliacek 84), Ovavec (Ceesay 63)

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match was Chelsea's number 23, Daniel Sturridge

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Honestly, when my Newcastle supporting friend told me Van Aanholt was good, I thought he was lying. But my god he's impressed me so much! I see so much of Ashley Cole in him, the way he attacks the opposition and his precision passes into the 18-yard box. The fact he's only 20, makes it even better.

If the likes of.. Bruma, van Aanholt, Sturridge, McEachran, Kalou & Kakuta (who's undoubtedly yet to prove his potential) are the future of ChelseaFC, I'm a very proud fan! :chelsea2:

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I 'love' the way all the newspapers say we were poor yesterday night lol !

We have lost three of our four last games, we were missing eight of our players plus Mikel and Anelka were on the bench plus we have started five youngsters. What did they expect ?!

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