By Kieran Lovelock
Chelsea came into their Champions League clash with French champions Marseille off the back of two consecutive defeats with concerns hanging as to whether or not they really were as good as they appeared. This question has yet to be answered but this 2-0 victory should go some way to quieting their critics.
Marseille fans were in strong voice to start off with taking particular aim at Nicolas Anelka for his antics in South Africa this summer. But they were soon silenced by Chelsea captain John Terry after the former England skipper managed to squeeze in a corner at the near post from Gael Kakuta cross.
As happy as the 19 year old Frenchman would be for claiming the assist the truth is that it all came about through Benoit Cheyrou’s failure to clear at the near post- Terry’s attempt at goal was more of a stab than a shot and should never have crept in.
Before the opening goal Marseille had had the better of the early spell but struggled to find momentum despite leaving three up front throughout. Although they managed 7 shots on goal in the first half only one was on target and they generally lacked the penetration and guile necessary to get past the central defensive partnership of Terry and Alex, with the gap in class between the two sides’ strike force being somewhat stark with the irony being that Chelsea’s three forwards were all French.
Marseille’s misery was then compounded when centre back Stephane Mbia was adjudged to have handled in the box in the 28th minute. In the absence of the injured Frank Lampard, Anelka calmly rolled home a penalty in front of the French fans who were still berating him and France teammate Florent Malouda at every opportunity.
After the match Marseille coach Didier Deschamps said: “We knew that Chelsea would be better physically and technically than us, but I was very disappointed about the first half as we lacked aggression all around the pitch. Second half however we did much better and could easily have scored.”
The second half started brightly for Marseille as Chelsea switched to a 4-4-2 out of possession whilst maintaining 4-3-3 whilst going forward. The French team had the lion’s share of the possession for the first 20 minutes of the second half but were severely lacking when it came to producing a final ball.
Chelsea didn’t even have a shot on goal in the second half until the 65th minute when Alex struck the post with venomous free kick from thirty yards out. However Marseille continued to dominate but were simply unable get in behind Chelsea.
Daniel Sturridge was brought on in place of the disappointing Yuri Zhirkov to try and raise some pulses and get Chelsea back to where they were in the first half, but ultimately failed as Chelsea continued to struggle in their attempt to finish off the French team who were making their visit to Stamford Bridge since 2000.
As the last ten minutes can Marseille continued to attack but simply couldn’t gain the quality of possession necessary to find a way past Chelsea and were limited to speculative efforts from outside the box. Despite finishing the game with just 48% of the possession Chelsea were in the end comfortable winners and were able to bring on 17 year old midfielder Joshua McEachran for his second appearance in the Champions League.
Upon viewing Chelsea there is no doubt that they are far less of a threat without the talismanic Drogba. I asked Carlo Ancelloti in his press conference afterwards what the difference Drogba makes and his response was refreshingly honest. “Didier is a high quality player. So much so that when he is not there we have to play differently in that we must get the ball out wide more often.”
After a difficult week Chelsea did all that was necessary in setting themselves up nicely to go through to the Champions League knockout stages as group winners where they will need to be more clinical than they were tonight.
Chelsea- (4-3-3) Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Cole; Essien, Mikel (McEachran 87), Zhirkov (Sturridge 72); Anelka, Malouda, Kakuta (Ramires 61)
Subs not used: Turnbull, van Aanholt, Bruma, Ferreria.
Scorers: Terry (7th minute) Anelka pen (28th minute)
Marseille- (4-3-3) Mandanda; Heinze, Mbia, Diawara, Kabore; Cheyrou (Ayew 59), Cisse, Gonzalez; Brandao, Gignac (Valbuena 59), Remy
Subs not used: Abriel, Hilton, Taiwo, Andrade, Azpilicueta.
Booked: Heinze, Mbia.
Man of the Match- Michael Essien.