Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Chelsea sink Marseille to get back on Champions League track

Chelsea returned to form in convincing fashion with a 2-0 victory over French champions Marseille in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side had suffered their first Premier League defeat of the season at Manchester City on Saturday, just days after crashing out of the League Cup against Newcastle.

But there was no prolonged hangover from those setbacks as the English champions brushed aside Marseille at Stamford Bridge thanks to an early goal from John Terry and Nicolas Anelka’s first-half penalty.

The win left Chelsea top of Group F, ahead of Spartak Moscow on goal difference, after two games of their latest bid to win Europe’s elite club competition for the first time.

Ancelotti said: “We had a good analysis about the last defeat, then we prepared this game well and played a good game. Now those defeats are forgotten.

“We played very well in the first half, but the second half was more difficult because Marseille put more pressure on us.

“We still had a lot of chances but they were in the game until the end.”

Marseille boss Didier Deschamps was scathing of his team’s display and said: “It’s true to say we were dominated both technically and physically. There was a huge difference between the two sides.

“If you look at the teams on paper you could see there might be a gap and that is what happened on the pitch.

“In the first 45 minutes we were far inferior to Chelsea. When you are 2-0 behind it is very difficult.”

Despite his lack of new signings during the close-season, Ancelotti this week insisted his squad has enough strength in depth to cope with the demands of challenging for the Champions League and Premier League.

With Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou and Yossi Benayoun injured and Didier Drogba serving a suspension, Ancelotti will be relieved his understudies seized the opportunity to prove him right and end the club’s recent blip.

The Italian handed French teenager Gael Kakuta his European debut, while Russia’s Yuri Zhirkov came in for Ramires in midfield.

Marseille’s vociferous band of travelling supporters subjected French stars Anelka and Florent Malouda to some ferocious abuse in the opening moments.

But Malouda clearly wasn’t bothered by the taunts as he worked spaced in the penalty area for a shot that Steve Mandanda pushed away for a corner.

From the resulting Kakuta set-piece, Chelsea took a seventh-minute lead as Terry squeezed a flicked shot past a dismal attempt to clear from Benoit Cheyrou at the near post.

Terry’s first goal since March seemed to knock Marseille completely out of their stride and Malouda threatened again when he battled his way past two defenders before driving over the bar.

Anelka was next to pierce the Marseille defence as he surged clear of Stephane Mbia, only to shoot straight at Mandanda.

Deschamps’ side occasionally caused Chelsea a few nervous moments with their smooth build-up play, but they lacked the cutting edge to break through and, crucially, always looked jittery at the back.

Anelka slammed the door on their hopes of a comeback in the 28th minute.

When Mbia blocked Michael Essien’s cross with his arm, Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere pointed for a penalty and Anelka calmly stroked the spot-kick past Mandanda.

If that decision was slightly harsh on Marseille, there was no doubt that Chelsea deserved to be well ahead as Anelka and Malouda were causing constant problems with their fluid movement.

Former Chelsea midfielder Deschamps sent on Andre Ayew and Mathieu Valbuena in a bid to spark his side into life soon after half-time.

But it was Chelsea who were inches away from scoring again as Alex’s blistering long-range strike cannoned off a post. Anelka tried to convert the rebound but couldn’t glance his header past Mandanda.

Then Essien hit the woodwork as well soon after with a side-footed effort from the edge of the area.

Those near-misses were never likely to come back to haunt Chelsea as Ancelotti’s team cruised home with the minimum of fuss.

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