Chelsea 4-1 Spartak Moscow

Blues forced to play out second billing

November 3, 2010
By Kevin Palmer
(Archive)

It has been many a long year since Chelsea supporters looked upon those who swear allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur with an envious eye, but that might just have been the case this week.

Didier Drogba converted coolly from the penalty spot
GettyImagesDidier Drogba converted coolly from the penalty spot on his return to Champions League action

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Carlo Ancelotti's Blues may be riding high at the top of the Premier League table and assured of a placed in the last 16 of the Champions League after this comfortable romp against an outclassed opponent, yet such serene progress becomes a little mundane when it is the norm.

This game against Spartak Moscow was an anti-climax in comparison to the other Champions League game in London this week, which saw Tottenham see off European champions Inter Milan in truly exhilarating fashion. Unbridled joy flowed from the stands as Tottenham announced their arrival on the biggest of European stages and the buzz that carried over from a thrilling evening of football was still in the air as the press pack gathered at Stamford Bridge for an impromptu pre-match debrief from the night before.

After a season when extortionate salary demands of disgraced star players and the sex scandals they seem determined to be a part of have provided a seedy subplot to the action, one scribe suggested the exhilarating passion that oozed from Tottenham's players and their enchanted supporters must have reminded Chelsea fans of what following their team used to be like and he may have had a point.

A new breed of Chelsea fan has discovered a 'love' for this club in the era when Roman Abramovich's money has backed their ambition, but the Stamford Bridge diehards will confirm that their most cherished of memories following the Blues came long before this somewhat manufactured era.

Their cup successes of the early 1970s and their 1997 FA Cup triumph are higher up the list of favourite moments in the eyes of a bulk of Chelsea fans who were forced to live through the grim times before their team reached the promised land. To the old guard who view Kerry Dixon and Peter Osgood as their heroes, the new breed who have started supporting the club belatedly are little more than hangers-on attracted by success.

That Spurs have edged towards parity on the pitch with Chelsea without a benefactor who has funded their rise could make their achievements seem somewhat more pure, but it remains to be seen whether the rise of Harry Redknapp's men can be sustained in the latter stages of this season's Champions League.

On this occasion, Chelsea barely needed to move out of second gear to dismiss a poor Spartak Moscow side and they could even afford a less than convincing first half before they took control after the break.

Goals from Anelka and Drogba and a two more from Branislav Ivanovic brought modest cheers from a sell-out crowd who deserve credit for beating the London tube strike to attend a game that could easily have been missed given the transport chaos around the capital. However, this was not a night that will live long in the memory of anyone present.

In many ways, it was a fixture the reeked of everything that the dwindling group of football romantics despise in the modern game. One team financed by a Russian billionaire whose backing has propelled his 'brand' into the unofficial European super-league against a team propped up by another Russian billionaire hoping to put his beloved team on the same pedestal as Chelsea.

Spartak Moscow owner Leonid Fedun has much in common with Abramovich as both made their fortunes from Russian oil and they share a passion for playing fantasy football in the Champions League. Here, though, only one of the money men will be have enjoyed the experience.

Chelsea boss Ancelotti was the first to admit that this was a comfortable win for his team and he reserved special praise for one player in particular. "Anelka was the key for us to open up this game," said the Italian. "Once he scored the first goal, things because easier for us. He is a quiet and calm person away from the pitch, but he works so hard for the team and his level of consistency is impressive.

Branislav Ivanovic scored two goals as Chelsea routed Spartak
GettyImagesBranislav Ivanovic scored two goals to put the game far, far beyond Spartak

"We know that the final of the Champions League is in London this year and this is giving us some extra motivation. Now we are through the group stage, the aim has to be to arrive in the final at Wembley. I think it is a real possibility, but we will need some luck also."

Spartak's late consolation strike from Nikita Bazhenov brought cheer to the Russian hordes away to our left, but a second goal for Ivanovic gave the final score line a realistic look and the visiting manager was happy to concede as much.

"We lacked faith that we could win and that is why we started to fall when we conceded the first goal," said Spartak coach Valeri Karpin. "Second place in this group has always been the target for us and we are still in a position to do that. We did not have much joy tonight and not even our goal is much of a consolation."

There may have been more goals in this game than the feast at White Hart Lane on Tuesday evening, yet those of us in the neutral camp at Stamford Bridge couldn't help but feel we had picked the wrong Champions League game to attend this week.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Nicolas Anelka

The Frenchman so nearly scored a cracker of a goal in the first half and his finish for the Chelsea opener was exquisite. Anelka and Chelsea will benefit as his exile from international football continues.

SPARTAK NUMBER MYSTERY: The Russian visitors had a curious collection of numbers on their shirts. Goalkeeper Andriy Dykan had a less than natural No.81 and Ireland winger Aiden McGeady plumping for No.64. They also boasted a No.99 and No.49. Superstitions clearly dominate in their dressing room.

PITCH INVADER: The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for a second-half Russian pitch intruder who boasted a less than toned physique that did little to help him escape the clutches of the pursuing stewards. The farce was completed by a chasing security chief who appeared to be approaching pensionable age.

INJURY UPDATE: Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that Florent Malouda will miss the trip to Liverpool this weekend with a twisted ankle. He hopes Frank Lampard will return to action at Anfield on Sunday.

CHELSEA VERDICT: Such was the gulf in class between the sides that Chelsea cruised to victory without talisman John Terry and Frank Lampard, while Drogba and Anelka were taken off to save their legs for the trip to Liverpool. This was a stroll for Ancelotti's troops.