Premier League leaders Chelsea can all but wrap up qualification to the Champions League knockout stages with victory over Spartak Moscow on Wednesday as they look to continue their 100 percent record in this seasons’ competition.
The Blues, participating in their ninth Champions League campaign, have never failed to progress from the group stage of the competition so far and beating their Russian visitors to Stamford Bridge would leave the London club requiring just one point from their last two matches. I was two weeks ago when Chelsea travelled to Moscow in a difficult looking tie, yet returned with all three points. The home side tested the Blues at times throughout but the game was near over at half-time as two first half goals, a spectacular goal by Yuri Zhirkov against his Russian counterparts and Nicolas Anelka’s cool finish, ensued Chelsea returned to London 2-0 victors.
Carlo Ancelotti will have to make do without left-winger Florent Malouda, who has been ruled out by an ankle injury sustained in Saturday’s 2-1 Premier League victory over Blackburn Rovers. “Malouda has an ankle problem,” said the Italian manager. “He twisted it in the last game and had a scan yesterday [Monday]. We don’t think it’s a big problem. I hope he is ready for the game against Liverpool.” The Frenchman has been in an impressive goal scoring form this season, hitting the net seven times in 14 games, every goal coming in the Premier League as he put aside national disappointment at the World Cup to hit the ground running for his club. He joins Frank Lampard on the sideline, though the Englishman may finally return for Sunday’s trip to Anfield to face Liverpool having missed out since the end of August. Jose Bosingwa will also sit out the match due to illness after his recent successful return to action following a year’s recovery from a serious knee injury suffered in October 2009.
One player certain to be returning for Ancelotti will be Didier Drogba, who should make his first appearance in this seasons’ Champions League. The Ivorian forward was ruled out of wins over MSK Zilina and former club Olympique Marseille by suspension after his sending off in last year’s second round exit to eventual winners Inter Milan, and the victory in Russia due to a virus. Drogba has a formidable record in Europe for his club, scoring 28 goals in 58 games, though his last goal for Chelsea in the competition came nearly a year ago in December 2009.
Ancelotti portrayed a seemingly buoyant mood in preparation for the match as his side seeks to virtually assure themselves of a place in the last 16, giving the opportunity to rest senior players in the closing two matches: “When you have an opportunity to close the game you have to do it,” he told reporters. “We have a chance to get to the top of the table and play the last group games without pressure.”