Club Focus – Chelsea – Blues march into pole position for Champions League top spot

Chelsea made a successful return to the Luzhniki Stadium with a 2-0 victory over Spartak Moscow that put them three points clear at the top of Group F and made it three wins in three Champions League games. Two seasons ago, on the biggest night in the club’s history, Chelsea fell at the last hurdle as a 6-5 penalty shootout defeat to rivals Manchester United broke Blue hearts in the Russian capital. This time, however, first half goals by Yuri Zhirkov and Nicolas Anelka ensured the Blues returned to London with a foot in the knockout stages despite the absence of their talismanic striker Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard as they took maximum points from difficult trip to Russia.

Zhirkov, making only his fourth start for the Premier League champions this season chose the perfect time to score the first goal of his Chelsea career as he hammered a spectacular opener midway through the first half. The Russian international, who joined Chelsea from Spartak Moscow’s city rivals CSKA in a £18m deal last summer, ran onto a headed clearance to smash an otherwise innocuous ball past Spartak goalkeeper Andriy Dykan with a left footed 25-yarder that silenced the home fans. Just before half-time, Anelka wrapped up three points for the Blues as he scored his 50th goal in a Chelsea shirt, deceiving a Spartak defender before composing himself to beat Dykan in the Moscow goal to send the visitors in two goals up at the break. Despite an improvement from the home side in the second half and a string of good saves by Petr Cech to protect their lead, the Londoners never looked like relinquishing the advantage as they strode to victory and a dominant position at the top of the group, overcoming Spartak who had themselves entered the game with a 100 percent record. With consecutive home games against Moscow and MSK Zilina, who they dispatched 4-1 away in Slovakia, followed by a visit to France and Olympique Marseille, the Blues will surely fancy themselves to be comfortable group winners over the closing three group matches.

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti insisted after the game any lingering thoughts of the 2008 Champions League final defeat to Manchester United were banished before the match and the collective thoughts of his players were solely placed on the game against the previously unbeaten Russian side: “ They were focused on this game,” said the Italian. He went on to heap praise on Zhirkov’s contribution: “It was an important moment for Yuri, coming back to play for Chelsea in Russia,” Ancelotti said. “He scored a fantastic goal and will be very happy. He was very good.

Naming a substitutes bench that lacked its normal strength by including a selection of youth players, Ancelotti was able to give further opportunities to youngsters Gael Kakuta, Josh McEachran and Patrick Van Aanholt late in the second half as his side cruised to victory and all but ensured their passage to the last 16 of this year’s competition, which culminates in the capital, at Wembley, in May 2011.

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