Chelsea 4-1 Spartak Moscow: a stuttering start, but Chelsea eventually power past the Russians
Chelsea took longer than usual to get into their stride, but recorded a familiar comfortable victory.
Chelsea rested John Terry and Michael Essien, so Branislav Ivanovic moved to the centre of the defence, and Ramires came in on the right side of midfield. Saloman Kalou replaced Florent Malouda.
Spartak moved Yevgeni Makeev to right-back and brought in Andrei Ivanov on the left. Alex returned, so Ari dropped to the bench.
Spartak were much better defensively than in the first leg. The presence of Alex made them more solid in the centre of midfield – although he is a playmaker rather than a tackler, he played deeper than Ari did, forming a five-man barrier which Chelsea’s midfield struggled to pass through.
Spartak were notable for their fluidity when defending – Dmitri Kombarov worked hard and defended in deep positions against Ashley Cole, but on other occasions he stayed upfront and Welliton came over to the right flank. Alex got through his share of defensive work, and also showed a couple of good attacking moments, though he was marshalled well by Jon Obi Mikel.
Zhirkov less of a threat
Spartak also dealt with Yuri Zhirkov much better than in the first game. Ibson was fielded further forward and slightly to the right to prevent Zhirkov getting too much time and space on the ball (in the previous game Zhirkov completed the most number of passes of any player on the pitch, and also got the crucial first goal).
Spartak were not sitting back completely, however – in fact they were pressing quite well when the ball was played in midfield. Ramires and Zhirkov were both closed down quickly, whilst Mikel generally had a little more time on the ball when Alex moved deeper towards Ramires in the 4-5-1.
The problem Chelsea had for much of the game was the gap between the midfield and attack – they sometimes looked like a broken team in this area, with no clear link player between the two lines. That can sometimes be a problem with a 4-3-3, and Chelsea were missing the two players who act as that ‘link’ very well – Frank Lampard, who offers driving runs from midfield, and Florent Malouda, who drops deep from the forward three and takes up positions in between the lines.
This was one area that Spartak actually looked more proficient than Chelsea in – Alex didn’t have a spectacular game, but he did drop into interesting positions and when he got free from Mikel, threatened to create, though Spartak’s main threat came from long shots, from he and Kombarov.
Aiden McGeady and Kombarov were able to take on the two Chelsea full-backs immediately, but were not consistent enough with their crossing and delivery to cause Alex or Ivanovic problems, and Welliton was quiet.
What Chelsea do, famously, is get results even when not playing brilliant football. They did struggle for creativity in this game – rarely did they find a player free in the box, or work a 2 v 1 situation in the final third.
The frustration for Valery Karpin will be that his side were well-stocked for both of Chelsea’s two goals – they were maybe slightly narrow for Anelka’s goal, but it was only a wonderful finish from a tight angle that resulted in the goal. There were also plenty of defenders back for the second goal, where Drogba won a penalty he converted himself, but a clumsy tackle let Spartak down.
At 2-0 Chelsea were out of sight and their wide players took up much deeper positions, looking more like 4-5-1 and playing on the counter. Spartak had done rather well until then, but the quality of Anelka and Drogba shone through to put the home side in charge.
Spartak held out for a while because they defended well as a team – when one player got drawn out of position, a teammate would drop in and cover. The defensive line was just right – neither so deep that Drogba was on top of the goalkeeper, nor too high that Anelka was a threat over the top. In the end the Frenchman did break the deadlock, but sometimes you have to give credit for a good goal rather than question the defending.
Chelsea did lack creativity with no Lampard or Malouda, though credit should go to the underrated Kalou for his through ball for Anelka’s crucial first goal. The Ivorian is rarely held up as a star player for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but consistently comes up with goals and assists to justify his manager’s faith in him.Chelsea 4-1 Spartak Moscow: a stuttering start, but Chelsea eventually power past the Russians