Spartak Moscow 0-2 Chelsea: usual professional display from Ancelotti’s side
Yuri Zhirkov’s stunning goal put Chelsea into a lead they never looked like giving up.
Spartak fielded a 4-2-3-1 system, with Ari playing close to the main striker, Welliton. The two wide players stayed on their respective flanks for most of the first half but switched in the second. Ibson and Aleksandr Sheshukov played a loose double pivot, with a good understanding allowing each other to move across the pitch.
Chelsea fielded their usual 4-3-3 / 4-3-2-1 system, with Didier Drogba still absent. Salomon Kalou was in on the right, and Zhirkov was fielded on the left.
The game started slowly, with both sides looking to retain the ball in the centre of the pitch rather than break forward quickly. Spartak started by pressing Chelsea’s three central midfielders quickly, forming two banks of four with Ari dropping in on Jon Obi Mikel.
Michael Essien was relatively deep in midfield, more similar to his position against Aston Villa than his advanced role against Manchester City. Florent Malouda drifted into central positions, meaning Zhirkov moved out wide to the left.
Spartak’s full-backs got well forward early on, and tested Malouda and Kalou’s defensive abilities. The bigger threat was Sergei Parshivlyuk on the right, and he created a good early chance that was wasted by Kombarov.
The game was finely balanced at 0-0, with Chelsea seeing more of the ball but Spartak creating slightly better chances. One moment changed the entire game, however, when Zhirkov thumped a superb drive into the top corner from 25 yards, putting Chelsea 1-0 up.
Zhirkov was the game’s key player, even without his goal. He completed more passes than any other Chelsea player, and his habit of drifting to his natural left-sided position meant Spartak found it difficult to close him down – the right-winger Aiden McGeady was dealing with Ashley Cole, whilst the right-back Parshivlyuk looked to close down Malouda. Whether we can attribute his goal to this unusual positioning is debatable – goals like that should probably be taken simply as stunning strikes – but he was frequently free and therefore was the dangerman.
His drifts to the left were helped by the presence of Essien playing a defensive-minded role – it would be hard to imagine Zhirkov getting the freedom to move out to the wing in a game like this is if it had been Frank Lampard alongside Mikel.
The other danger for Spartak was their highish defensive line. Against a Drogbaless Chelsea, defending deep seems to be the best option – not only are you less vulnerable to Nicolas Anelka’s pace over the top, it’s also easier to deal with his ‘false nine’ nature, in making runs away from goal. Here, however, a simple Essien ball through the defence found Anelka free of the Spartak backline, and he finished with typical coolness.
Chelsea had no need to change anything at the start of the second half, and Vladimir Karpin didn’t make any substitutions either. There appeared to be a different style of approach from the home side, however, as they got the ball much more quickly to McGeady and Kombarov, who both looked dangerous in wide zones and exploited the fact that they were generally receiving the ball with immediate 1 v 1 battles up against the two Chelsea full-backs.
Chelsea always seemed relatively comfortable, however, with the two centre-backs having excellent games. Just as in the first two games of this group, Chelsea’s half-time lead was followed by a reserved, professional display in the second half that rarely looked like yielding goals for either side.
Ancelotti’s only slight concern was the Spartak wingers, and so late on he switched to a more obvious 4-5-1 system, removing Kalou for Josh McEachran, moving Malouda to the right and Zhirkov to the left in order to close out the game. Karpin left it until the 85th minute to bring on a substitute, the excellent young playmaker Jano Anaidze making his debut – but by then it was game over.
We are getting used to this from Chelsea in the Champions League group stages. Not only are they seeking to win games as quickly as possible, they’re seeking to win the group as quickly as possible. A win in the return fixture in London will effectively put them through.
Spartak played reasonably well, and did cause Chelsea problems early on. Once Chelsea were in the lead, however, it was an uphill task as the away side were content to sit back. They remain favourites to qualify in second place, however.
Chalkboard courtesy of TotalFootball iPhone appSpartak Moscow 0-2 Chelsea: usual professional display from Ancelotti’s side