Champions League - Chelsea survive Zilina scare
An experimental Chelsea side came from behind to beat Zilina 2-1 in their Champions League clash at Stamford Bridge, securing top spot in Group F.
Babatounde Bello put the Slovakian champions into a surprise lead in the first half, but relentless Chelsea pressure in the second - and goals from Daniel Sturridge and Florent Malouda - spared the Premier League champions the indignity of giving Zilina their first Champions League point of the season.
Carlo Ancelotti made six changes to the side that lost 1-0 at Birmingham in the Premier League on Saturday, handing a full-debut to exciting 17-year-old midfield prospect Josh McEachran - who, in turn, became Chelsea's youngest ever Champions League player - and naming 19-year-old Jeffrey Bruma and 20-year-old Patrick van Aanholt alongside Branislav Ivanovic and Paolo Ferreira in defence.
Zilina delivered an almighty shock to their illustrious hosts with just 19 minutes played, however, cutting through Ancelotti's experimental Chelsea side with alarming ease.
Bello played a swift, accurate one-two with Zilina captain Robert Jez - slicing through the woefully static Chelsea defence - before sweeping a shot past Ross Turnbull and into the bottom right corner of the net.
The goal was just deserts for a Chelsea outfit utterly devoid of imagination and flair in the opening 20 minutes or so, sending shockwaves through a team that perhaps expected an easier ride against a Zilina side beaten 7-0 at home by Marseille in their last Champions League outing.
The hosts slowly began to assert their authority as half-time drew closer, but the young Chelsea side could barely muster more than a handful of real chances.
Didier Drogba , captain for the night, juggled the ball expertly on the right wing, before jinking through a challenge and picking out Malouda in the middle of the Zilina penalty area.
The Frenchman rose highest to meet the cross, but sent his limp header tamely into the hands of Martin Dubravka.
Sturridge and Malouda both came close to dragging Chelsea level in the closing minutes of the half, but Sturridge could only hammer a close-range volley over the bar on the turn in the 39th minute, and Malouda saw his 30-yard piledriver deflected narrowly wide just three minutes later.
Ancelotti replaced Gael Kakuta with Salomon Kalou at half-time, and Chelsea immediately benefited from the presence of one of their more established stars as Zilina sat deeper and deeper in defence.
With the visitors sitting back and inviting Chelsea to attack them an equaliser was almost inevitable, and Sturridge duly supplied one within six one-sided minutes played in the second half.
Kalou swept in a teasing ball from the left, which drifted all the way through to the former Manchester City striker at the far post.
Sturridge still had the excellent Dubravka to beat, but the force of the shot proved too great for the Slovakian keeper, and Stamford Bridge breathed a sigh of relief.
If Chelsea's equaliser was - in part - a consequence of Zilina's much-changed, defensive style of play in the second half, then visiting manager Pavel Hapel resolutely failed to notice, as his team continued to sit back and invite the hosts' eminent forwards to attack.
Dubravka was forced to make a stunning, one-handed save to tip a 61st-minute Drogba free-kick onto the post, before 20-year-old Dutch fullback Patrick van Aanholt slammed a thunderous left-foot strike into the opposite post 10 minutes later.
The chances were coming thick and fast for a determined Chelsea, but - when Malouda could only hammer a shot into the side netting after a clever backheel from Drogba in the 82nd-minute - Zilina must have started to believe that a famous Champions League point might actually be on the cards.
With just four minutes to go, however, Chelsea's stars broke Slovakian hearts with an excellently-worked goal to secure all three points for the hosts.
Late substitute Nicolas Anelka delivered a perfect ball in to Drogba from the left, which the Ivorian headed towards the left post and the advancing Malouda.
The French winger gratefully stabbed the ball past a helpless Dubravka, giving Chelsea their fifth win in five Champions League matches, and guaranteeing the Blues top spot in Group F.
Chelsea face Marseille on December 8, hoping to become the first British side ever to win all six group games in the Champions League.