By Kieran Lovelock
Chelsea 2-1 MSK Zilina
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t emphatic but Chelsea just about managed to beat Slovakian Champions MSK Zilina to keep the questions about Carlo Ancelotti’s future at bay, for now.
The three points earned ensured that Chelsea went through as winners of their group, but they will struggle to go much further if they continue to play as they did in the opening part of this game.
The first half was simply woeful from Chelsea. Zilina were far more efficient, organized, compact and generally better than their opponents all the way through and they were rewarded with a goal on 31 minutes from Nigerian midfielder Babatounde Bello.
The impressive Tomas Majtan, who was causing havoc in front of Chelsea’s back four throughout the first half, managed to get away from his man to slip a simple pass through the middle of Chelsea’s leaky back line for Bello to toe poke past Ross Turnbull into the bottom corner.
This was only Zilina’s second goal in the whole competition this season and my how they deserved it.
All week the talk has been of how Chelsea started the season with only one fully fit centre back and this goal showed why it is been such a hot topic. It truly was terrible defensive play from the makeshift partnership of Jeffry Bruma and Branislav Ivanovic and Ancelotti admitted to being angry at half time during his post match press conference. “I was very angry at half time because of how poorly we played and I let the players know that it wasn’t good enough. In the first half we played too slowly but the second half had a better intensity”
During the half time interval former Chelsea defenders Graeme Le Saux and Dan Petrescu were paraded in front of the crowd to celebrate their achievements with the club. Ancelotti must have been tempted to persuade them to put their boots on and play, it was that bad.
However after the break the match was a totally different affair and Chelsea finally woke up as Ancelotti brought on Soloman Kalou for the disappointing Kakuta. “I brought on Kalou because I wanted to play with two wingers in the second half and it worked.” the Italian said afterwards.
This was not the only change at half time, for Ramires was moved into a more central role to support 17 year old Josh McEachran who was starting a senior game for the first time and performed with a great sense of calmness throughout.
Right from the off it was apparent that the changes would work and Chelsea were level on fifty one minutes after Daniel Sturridge scored his second goal of the season, both of which have come against Zalina, from an unmarked position at the back post.
Chelsea proceeded to then batter the Slovakian side and ended up with 31 shots on goal throughout the whole game. The ever dangerous Florent Malouda shot narrowly wide, Drogba hit the bar, van Aanholt hit the post and it looked like Chelsea would once again leave frustrated as they did at the weekend against Birmingham.
Ancelotti was eventually forced to bring on Nicolas Anelka for Sturridge in the 72nd minute for that seemingly elusive winner and it paid off as the Frenchman supplied the cross for Malouda to deservedly score with just five minutes left.
It was the old one, two, three for Chelsea as Anelka crossed from the edge of the box to Drogba who then headed it down for Malouda to prod home from six yards out. In truth it was what Chelsea deserved as they dominated the second half and if they continue to attack in this kind of manner then wins will surely come.
Afterwards Zilina coach Pavel Hapal said: “In the second half Chelsea created many opportunities and it was a matter of time before they took one. If they keep creating chances like they did tonight then they will be very hard to beat.”
However the air of mystery that has surrounded Chelsea over recent weeks was still present at Stamford Bridge. For during the game Carlo Ancelotti seemed oblivious to the fact that he even had a bench as he hardly conversed with his new assistant manager, Michael Emenalo, and only ever spoke to his backroom staff out of what looked like sheer politeness. One must wonder still what the Italian is thinking about the departure of Ray Wilkins and quite what kind of an impact it has had not only on the team’s state of mind, but also his own.
This, of course, is impossible to measure. But what is always determinable in football is the score line and that was 2-1 to Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti will tell you that this is all that matters and he is right to an extent, but if he doesn’t get his centre backs fit and if he doesn’t find some harmony with the people that matter off the field then Chelsea’s progress in the Champions League may not be as strong as the influence of their owner.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Turnbull; Ferreira, Ivanovic, Bruma, van Aanholt; Ramires, McEachran (Mellis 90), Malouda; Sturridge (Anelka 72), Drogba, Kakuta (Kalou 46) .
MSK Zilina (4-4-1-1): Dubravka; Angelovic, Pecalka, Piacek. Gergel; Jez, Guldan, Bello, Vladavic (Rilke 89); Majtan (Poliacek 84); Oravec (Ceesay 64)
Referee: Robert Schorgenhofer (Austria)
Man of the match: Florent Malouda- a bright light in the first half for Chelsea and put in a good finish for the winner.
Kieran was at Stamford Bridge to cover the game for 90soccer