Zhirkov Goal Marks Happy Return To Moscow

Chelsea returned to the Luzhniki Stadium, the venue for the infamous 2008 Champions League final, for the clash against Spartak Moscow.

Carlo Ancelotti said at the beginning of the match that ‘today is going to be a different day’, and so it proved to be, as Chelsea put the records straight and came away with a 2-0 victory.

Both teams went into the game unbeaten, with Chelsea leading the group only on goal difference, and both were also missing influential figures. The Blues were without their star duo of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, with a host of other players out as well, while the Russian side were missing their Brazilian Captain, Alex.

Chelsea had to make two changes from the game against Villa after Ramires was ruled out with an ankle injury. Zhirkov started against his former local rivals and Kalou returned from his injury layoff to replace Kakuta in the starting line-up. As it has been the case against Villa, Chelsea’s bench looked like a reserve team bench with an average age of just 19.57 years.

The game started well with both teams trying to get an early breakthrough. Spartak created the first chance of the game after Parshivlyuk made a run from midfield and sliced open the Chelsea defence, but luckily for Chelsea, Kombarov couldn’t take advantage and shot high over the bar.

Chelsea were still trying to get into the game when Spartak broke again, this time from the left, as Wellington received a low cross and unleashed a fierce low shot at Cech’s near post, only to be sharply blocked by the big Czech stopper.

Soon, Chelsea began to assert themselves on the game and started to put pressure on the Spartak backline. Chelsea favoured the left hand side as the trio of Malouda, Zhirkov and Ashley Cole were combining well.

Malouda, Essien and Kalou all went close for Chelsea, before Zhirkov silenced the crowd with an absolute screamer from 30 yards. John Obi’s long ball had fallen loosely, after Spartak failed to clear properly, which Zhirkov capitalised on, and stuck a sweet half volley over Spartak keeper Andrey Dykan. This was Zhirkov’s first ever Chelsea goal since his £18m transfer from CSKA in the summer of 2009 and some might say it was worth the wait.

The game went through a scrappy phase after the goal went in as both sides failed to take control. Chelsea were still the better team with Anelka doing a brilliant job up front. After failing to convert a one-on-one early on, Anelka capitalised on the next chance in the 43rd minute when Essien broke from midfield and played him through, he still had a lot of work to do in the box, but he maintained his composure and score his 50th Chelsea goal thereby giving Carlo Ancelotti’s men a 2-0 lead going into the half-time.

The second-half began just like the first with Spartak coming flying out of the box. Former Celtic star, McGeady, finally woke from his slumber and tested Cech from distance, resulting in a series of corners for the Russian side. Spartak were restricted to taking shots from distance only, as Chelsea’s defence stood strong. Isbon was next in line to try his luck from distance, but Cech was also upto the mark and denied him on both the occasions he tried.

As expected, Spartak couldn’t maintain their initial spell of pressure and soon waned. Chelsea sat back in the second half, with only occasional surges of attack, one of which led to a glorious opening for Essien, after a cutback from Kalou, but his shot went just wide. McEachran continued his impressive streak of first-team action with another appearance from the bench, replacing Kalou with 15mins to go. Gael Kakuta and Patrick van Aanholt also came off the bench late on.

Chelsea now go top of the group with three wins out of three, making the qualification to the next round and the top spot in the group just a formality. Carlo Ancelotti praised his side’s professionalism after the game, he said; “I think that we played a good game. It was not an easy game because Spartak, above all in the second half, played well. We established good control in that first half, scoring two goals, and then controlled it defensively in the second.”

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole (van Aanholt 86); Essien, Mikel, Zhirkov; Kalou (McEachran 73), Anelka, Malouda (Kakuta 81).
Scorers Zhirkov 23, Anelka 42.