Champions League - Zhirkov magic helps Chelsea past Spartak
Tue, 19 Oct 19:27:00 2010
Although Petr Cech had to make a couple of sharp saves in the second half from long-range Ibson efforts, the Blues looked disciplined and assured on what could have been a tricky trip to Russia.
With nine points from their first three games in the group stages, qualification now looks almost certain for Carlo Ancelotti's team.
Chelsea lost Ramires to an ankle injury at the weekend and that meant that a start for Zhirkov, but in the absence of Drogba they were pleased to welcome back Salomon Kalou.
The Blues, returning to the venue of their 2008 Champions League final defeat, settled well, enjoying plenty of possession and stroking the ball around with ease.
The chances, however, fell at first to the home side in front of a vocal Russian crowd of almost 80,000 fans.
Dmitri Kombarov was guilty of missing a golden chance for Spartak early on, failing to hit the target with his shot from 12 yards out after a mesmerising run from skipper Sergei Parshivlyuk.
Welliton then went close shortly after, turning sharply to force a tidy save from Cech at his near post.
Chelsea responded with a flashed shot wide of the post from Florent Malouda, but struggled to get too close to the goal.
That all changed when Zhirkov struck from out of the blue. The Russian scored his first goal for the Blues with a thundering half volley from 25 yards out, taking advantage of a tame clearing header from Nicolas Pareja.
Anelka and Malouda almost combined to make it two after the striker was gifted the ball by a desperate backpass but Malouda ran ahead of Anelka's cutback.
Anelka did not waste the next opportunity, doubling Chelsea's advantage just before the interval.
Michael Essien's driving run and pass played the Frenchman in, and he turned past Parshivlyuk before drilling his shot low into the far corner.
Spartak began the second half with renewed energy, with McGeady in particular looking far more dangerous for the Russians.
The hosts had plenty of shots on goal, but almost all from long range with few finding the target.
Brazilian midfielder Ibson did force Cech into action twice in the space of 60 seconds, and the Czech stopper made two terrific stops to deny Spartak a route back into the game midway through the second half.
Essien missed a glorious opportunity to seal the win with a third, placing a shot wide after a telling run and pass from Kalou.
Chelsea always seemed comfortable despite their opponents having the better of the second half, and Ancelotti used the last quarter of an hour to give run-outs to three members of their very youthful bench.
The win puts Chelsea clear at the top of Group F, with only a single point required from their next three games to secure a passage to the knock-out stage.Eurosport