Zhrikov 23, Anelka 43
Yuri Zhirkov fired home in spectacular fashion as Chelsea impressively navigated through a potential artificial banana skin and all but seal their place in the Champions League first knockout round.
Carlo Ancelotti named the strongest starting XI available to him at the infamous Luzhniki Stadium, but given the Blues’ current injury plight, was forced to name six teenagers on the bench. Regardless of circumstance, the artificial arena that has been the topic of intense debate within the football world is a gruelling venue to make your debut, so the impetus was on Chelsea to take the game to Spartak and control proceedings from the off.
Playing a more central role alongside Michael Essien, Zhirkov may have struggled to find his natural rhythm on Chelsea’s return to the stadium where they were so close and yet so far to achieving the Champions League glory they so desperately crave in 2008. That though couldn’t prevent the Russian Ronaldinho latching on to a loose Spartak header and lashing a blistering volley past a sprawling Andriy Dikan. The £18m winger has operated as a bit-part player under Ancelotti since signing for the Stamford Bridge club in 2009 and rumour is rife that Zhirkov is far from happy with his role at club. Yesterday though, the versatile midfielder gave his best performance since his instrumental display in the 7-1 rout of Aston Villa last term and would have given the manager a lot to think about ahead of Saturday’s clash with relegation battlers Wolves.
Nicolas Anelka also warmed the travelling fans’ hearts with his 50th goal for the club. In freezing conditions, Anelka did well to fend off a challenge before cutting back inside the box and finding an ever shrinking corner of the net to double Chelsea’s lead and secure a famous individual milestone. The Frenchman has never reached the tally for any of his previous nine employers and the well travelled striker will be overjoyed to have finally broken the barrier.
In recent weeks John Obi Mikel has turned in some assured performances for the Blues, none though more exceptional than in front of 75,000 spectators in Moscow. Whether the arrival of Ramires has prompted harder work on the training ground or he is naturally developing into the player Chelsea paid all of £16m for, Mikel certainly appears far more focused when in possession and is adorning a swagger bred from self-belief and quality performances. Many players would have buckled under the freezing heat of Russia’s footballing home, but the Nigerian conducted himself in such a manner that would have delighted his on-looking manager. With little to bring off the bench other than the always impressive Josh McEachran, a solid midfield performance from the Nigerian was exactly what Ancelotti would have wanted.
19 Ferreira – 26 Terry – 2 Ivanovic – 3 Cole
5 Essien – 12 Mikel – 18 Zhirkov
21 Kalou – 39 Anelka – 15 Malouda
74 – 43 McEachran on for 21 Kalou
82 – 44 Kakuta on for 15 Malouda
87 – 38 van Aanholt on for 3 Cole