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Chelsea has taken control of their UEFA Champions League tie with Danish champions FC Copenhagen, with two goals from Nicolas Anelka leading the Blues to a 2-0, Tuesday victory. The tie now moves to West London, with FCK having the unenviable task of getting a two goal result at Stamford Bridge.
Anelka's first goal came as a result of a collection of errors by Copenhagen. A mistaken back pass went straight to the striker, 35 yards from goal. Nobody closed down the attacker, who was able to launch a right-footed blast from the edge of the penalty area. Poor positioning from goalkeeper Johan Wiland allowed Anelka to finish into the left-center of net, giving Chelsea a 17th minute lead.
The goal was the first example of a vulnerability that would plague FCK throughout the evening. On numerous occasions, Anelka was able to exploit the channel between left-center half Mikael Antonsson and left back Oscar Wendt, Chelsea was continuously able to loft balls over that side of defense for Anelka to retrieve to the right of goal.
That approach led to the second score, nine minutes after halftime. A ball played into the final third for Frank Lampard led to the Chelsea midfielder's chip over Antonsson. To Johan Wiland's left, Anelka used his first touch to blast a right-footed shot toward the far corner, giving the Blues their insurance.
It was a confident and controlling display for Chelsea, who recorded their first victory since acquiring Fernando Torres and David Luiz at the close of January's transfer window. Chelsea had posted a 0-1-2 record since their high profile acquisitions, but with Fernando Torres starting in a previously unused 4-4-2 formation, the Blues were able to get the expected victory.
But the day's star was Anelka, whose two clean strikes brought his 2010-11 Champions League goal scoring total to seven. That combined with confident defending from the central defense and midfield gave the Blues an easy 90 minutes, now up 2-0 going back to Stamford Bridge.
Nicolas Anelka's day has ended just past the 70 minute mark, with Didier Drogba coming on. Two interesting notes about this substitution. First, Sky Sports had reported that neither Drogba nor Mikel John Obi had cleats on, while sitting on the bench, their flat shoes an apparent sign Carlo Ancelotti had no intention of using either. Second, Drogba is on at the same time as Fernando Torres, the first time since Liverpool's visit to Stamford Bridge that the duo has played simultaneously.
Within moments of the change, Torres had a danger moment, talking the ball to the left of Johan Wiland's goal, thread a ball back into the six. The slow rolling ball begged a Chelsea player to run onto it, but Copenhagen were able to clear.
Now in the 79th minute, the match is playing out like a foregone conclusion. Chelsea's two goal lead, obtained in the 54th minute, has not been meaningfully threatened by either Copenhagen or the Blues. This match is set to go to London with the favorites up two.
With Chelsea's first chance of the second half, Nicolas Anelka has his second goal of the right, a blistering right-footed shot from 16 yards out, beating Johan Wiland far post. Finishing a skillful set-up by Frank Lampard, Anelka has given Chelsea a 2-0, 54th minute lead and command of their UEFA Champions League tie with FC Copenhagen.
The movement started with Michael Essien on the ball, 35 yards out, a line of midfielders in front of him. The Ghanaian touched the ball forward to his midfield partner, Lampard, situated between midfielder and defenders. Lampard chipped a left-footed pass across his body, over the head of Mikael Antonsson, setting up Anelka. The forward's first touch was a perfectly struck shot for the far corner, the conversion doubling Chelsea's lead.
The goal gives the Blues a stranglehold on the tie, though the night is still young. With just over half an hour left, Chelsea may have a number of opportunities to catch the pursuing Lions out and exploit them for a third goal. In the 59th minute, that almost happened, with a left-footed shot from Fernando Torres palmed out by Johan Wiland.
Now into the final half hour, Chelsea leads in Copenhagen, 2-0.
FC Copenhagen's come out of halftime having made one change, the substitution having an immediate effect. Out is forward Cesar Santin, the Brazilian having no effect on the first half. In is Martin Vingaard, a natural midfielder who looks set to play a left-leaning role. Twenty seconds into the half, Vingaard got of a right-footed shot from 20 yards out, forcing Petr Cech to lay-out for the first time tonight.
If Vingaard does shade left, the substitution hints Copenhagen is willing to use the wide areas,particularly on the left, more than they did in the first half. During that initial 45 minutes, Copenhagen built their attacks through the middle and right, seeing no success with either route. Down the left, Vingaard and Copenhagen will being going after José Bosingwa, the most suspect of the Blues defenders.
Yet aside from their initial attack of the half, when Vingaard cut-in from the left for his shot, Copenhagen has not used that flank. In fact, Vingaard is playing centrally, at the level below Dame N'Doye. Jesper Gronkjaer has stayed on the left.
Now in the 53rd minute, Copenhagen has not been able to re-test Petr Cech. Chelsea maintains their lead, 1-0.
Chelsea had a comfortable first half in Denmark. After a 17th minute goal made all too easy by a number of Copenhagen mistakes, Chelsea was able to play the period's last half hour in a lower gear, content to cede possession to their hosts while waiting for opportunities to strike against the run of play. Though none of those opportunities were successful, Nicolas Anelka's early strike was, giving Chelsea a 1-0 lead at halftime.
For Copenhagen, the deficit was the result of a handful of breakdowns that occurred in a matter of seconds. An errand back pass from the left flank gave away the ball. The midfielders were out of position. Nobody closed down the Chelsea attacker. The goalkeeper's technique and position were poor. Put together, it was far too easy a goal for Anelka, scoring with his right foot from just inside the area.
At the other end of the park, Chelsea's defense has made the day easy for Petr Cech. Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry have been commanding on Copenhagen's crosses, while attempts to move the ball through midfield have been stymied by Frank Lampard and Michael Essien.
As a result, Chelsea has control of the tie: a road goal and a 1-0 lead at halftime.
Let's hope the rest of this match doesn't play out this way, though given the situation Nicolas Anelka's early goal has created for Chelsea, it might. FC Copenhagen is seeing more and more of the ball the farther we move away from Anelka's 17th minute goal, but every entry into Chelsea's third sees the Blues defense repel them. While Chelsea has had some openings for counter attacks, the Blues are playing an ever more calm, controlled match. It's not hard to imagine this persisting for the next hour, sending the tie back to London 1-0, Chelsea.
As the match enters its second half hour, Chelsea goes through stretches where they show little desire to pressure Copenhagen high, content to let their hosts kick the ball along their back line, Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres often standing still.
And then there's a chance. In the 32nd minute, Nicolas Anelka picks up a ball in the Copenhagen third, puts it behind Mattias Zanka Jorgensson, setting up a left-footed chance from nine yards out. Johan Wiland catches the far post attempt, keeping the match 1-0, Chelsea.
It probably goes without saying that you can't let most forwards carry the ball uncontested for 15 yards, into the box, where they can tee-up a shot on goal. Most forwards, at the UEFA Champions League-level, are going to seriously threaten your `keeper, in that situation. Forwards capable of starting for Chelsea FC will often score goals.
All of which sounds very basic yet was apparently forgotten by FC Copenhagen, the Danish champions allowing Nicolas Anelka a free path to goal in the 17th minute. The Chelsea striker struck a right footed shot beneath a lunging Mikael Antonsson, past a diving Johan Wiland for the opening goal.
It was poor position by Copenhagen's midfield. When the ball came to Anelka - back to goal, 35 yards out - there wasn't a midfielder within 12 yards. Anelka turned and raced toward the Copenhagen area, with Antonsson giving him all the room he needed to set-up a comfortable shot.
As a result, Chelsea has an early 1-0 lead.
It was near the 10 minute mark that we saw Chelsea start to take control of the match, twice playing the ball from the middle of the pitch (just outside the box) into the channels between center halves and full backs. In the ninth minute, it was a ball played for Ashley Cole, who would have been able to put a dangerous cross through the six were it not for that annoying offside flag. Just over one minute later, it was Fernando Torres looping a ball toward the byline for Nicolas Anelka, running through the right channel.
In the 14th minute, that approach took on a slightly different look, with Fernando Torres taking on, pushing Zdenek Pospech in from the right back position, allowing Florent Malouda to overlap on the left. When the ball was played to the line, Pospech got no help from Cristian Bolaños, and Chelsea had another chance.
But in between the Chelsea opoprtunities, Copenhagen has had one moment of excitement. In the 12th minute, the Lions were able to get-off two shots from inside the Chelsea area. Each shot, however, was blocked, leaving Petr Cech untested.
Now 16 minutes in, Copenhagen and Chelsea are still scoreless.
When Chelsea's team was announced, the speculation began. How will Carlo Ancelotti set-out his team? Two months ago, the selection would neatly fit into the 4-3-3 Ancelotti'd used over the preceding year. Now, choosing that 4-3-3 would be as curious as starting a England stereotype 4-4-2.
Which is exactly what Chelsea has chosen. Ramires is wide right. Florent Malouda is wide left, with Michael Essien playing the deeper of the central midfielders. Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres are partnered up-top.
In the match's opening moments, the story has been less about Chelsea's set-up and more about Copenhagen's energy. Perhaps predictably, the home side has come out pressuring their visitors, exhibiting the excitement you'd expect to see from a team playing the biggest match in the club's history. True, Copenhagen did host Barcelona in group stage. But this is the knockout round. The stakes are much higher.
Six minutes into the match, neither club has registered a shot on goal, though Copenhagen center half Matthias Zanka Jorgensson has already picked up a yellow card for bringing down an attacker who was about to get on a long ball behind the defense. The resulting set piece gave the crowd its first moment of worry, but after seven minute, the match remained scoreless.
Fernando Torres starts, Didier Drogba is on the bench, and the tea leaves are starting to become readable. Carlo Ancelotti's hints that Chelsea would go to a rotation with their striker position are starting to play-out. Drogba started on Saturday. Torres starts today.
There may be more to this than pure rotation, though. Drogba went 120 minutes on Saturday against Everton, Fernando Torres being ineligible for the FA Cup match. That combined with Chelsea's opponent, FC Copenhagen, makes it logical to rest the 32-year-old Ivorian.
But if rest is Carlo Ancelotti's motive, it's a motive that's not reflected in the rest of his selection. Five players who played the full 120 against Everton are in the team, though it could be argued that none have as capable a replacement as Drogba.
But is Torres Drogba's replacement? Or, is Drogba Torres's? Given this is only the third match for which they've both been eligible, it's too soon to tell.
Here are today's starting lineups. Kick-off is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, with Fox Soccer Channel handling the coverage. SB Nation Soccer will be bringing you live updates of this match as well as Lyon-Real Madrid, also scheduled to kick-off at 2:45 p.m.
Copenhagen, Starting XI: Johan Wiland - Zdenek Pospech, Mattias Zanka Jorgensson, Mikael Antonsson, Oscar Wendt - Cristian Bolaños, Claudemir, William Kvist Jorgensen, Jesper Gronkjaer - Cesar Santin, Dame N'Doye
Copenhagen, Bench: Jos Hooiveld, Kim Christensen, Kenneth Zohore, Martin Vingaard, Pierre Bengtsson, Thomas Delaney, Thomas Kristensen
Note: David Luiz is ineligible, cup-tied from his time with Benfica.
With only one point from three matches since Fernando Torres (and David Luiz) joined the club in January, things can scarcely get worse for Chelsea, a team whose title hopes have waned to the mere expectation of qualifying for Champions League, something that would have been a unreasonably low goal at season's onset. But with that benchmark accepted, Chelsea will have to look toward Champions League for their glory (now that an FA Cup defense has been precluded). Unfortunately for Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner for whom it's assumed Champions League is the ultimate prize, his team faces more immediate risks than rewards.
That's because Chelsea has the unenviable expectation of not only beating FC Copenhagen, their Champions League Round of 16 opponents, but also impressing. Such is the lack of respect for - lack of knowledge of - the Danish champions that a draw or one goal victory, results that would normally be considered successes on the road in Champions League, would be deemed disappointing. If Chelsea were to go to Denmark and post a 1-0 win, they would be in a commanding position in the tie, even though that result would be deemed another symptom of disintegration.
Chelsea fans, however, seem to be more realistic about the Blues' plight, even if it's pragmatism born out of disillusionment. After a season of highs (the all-world start) and lows (the Fernando Torres era), no result's likely to surprise a Chelsea fan. Even a loss in Denmark - a result that will surprise the rest of the world - may be met with relief from that sect of Blues supporters who've been waiting for this team to declare whether they're going to be good or bad. An empathic win over the team most were hoping to draw from the second place pool would only (perhaps needlessly) tantalize fans.
As well it should, given what Copenhagen bring to the Round of 16 match. Granted, the Lions had what could be called the easiest route to the knockout stage, merely having to best Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos to advance out of Group D. But this is still a team that's undefeated through 19 rounds of the Danish Superliga, a team that boasts a striking tandem that could present trouble against a Chelsea defense that will be without cup-tied David Luiz. Dame N'Doye is their best known threat, the 26-year-old Senegalese playing a vital role in Copenhagen's early results against their Russian and Greek competitors (scoring in each of Copenhagen's first two group stage mathces). His partner, Cesar Santin, went scoreless in group stage but has been more prolific on a goals-per-match basis in league. Together, you could see them crafting one moment of brilliance which, against a Chelsea team that's scored one goal in their last 300 minutes of action, could prove enough.
For their part, Chelsea has an easy answer: John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. It may be trite and borderline ignorant to say, but there is a reason why Terry and Ivanovic are who they are: Regulars for country as well as starters for one of the top clubs in the world, a stature they've garnered by being really, really good at what they do. Even amidst all of Chelsea's struggles, Terry and Ivanovic have been integral parts of a defence that has given up the fewest goals in the Premier League. If you want to dismiss "playing for Chelsea" as a validation of capability, fine. But explain wy they (along with Ashley Cole) have been at the heart of the best defense in the Premier League. What's to say that defense suddenly crumbles against FC Copenhagen?
Given Copenhagen scored one goal in 180 minutes of group play against Barcelona (in Group D play), very little. Under normal circumstances, evoking results against Barcelona would not be the best barometer for a team's success, but given the other measures we have to assess Copenhagen - Rubin, Pana, and the Danish Superliga - Barcelona seems the best when trying to evaluate the Lions' ability to deal with Chelsea. If the Danish champions averaged 0.50 goals per match against Barcelona, what's to say they'll find the two, three goal outburst required to give them the upper-hand over Chelsea? Let alone fully contain Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, and Frank Lampard?
Based on the evidence we have at hand, nothing tells us Copenhagen should be able to get more than one goal, though for the most melancholy of Chelsea supporters, that represents a double-edged sword. If Chelsea shutdown Copenhagen - even blow them out, an audacious expectation for the first, road leg of the a Champions League, knock-out road tie - they're merely playing their part, rising to an expectation they'll never be able to exceed. If Copenhagen stays close, Chelsea will fuel the simmering uncertainty that's engulfed the club since losing at Liverpool in early November.
Things can get worse for Chelsea. In fact, they can only get worse. Tuesday represents a no-win situation for the club, where anything short of a blow-out win can be construed as a disappointment. Should they get a two, three goal victory, Chelsea can temper the doubt until the weekend. Without it, things will only get worse.
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