For a while it looked like Birmginham City redux, but Chelsea's youngsters finally got the goals they deserved to win the game and secure first place in their Champions League group. Josh McEachran got his first start for the club, while Patrick van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma, and Daniel Sturridge all also made the starting eleven. Even Jacob Mellis got in on the action, the 19 year old making his first team debut by coming in during injury time for a player two years younger than he was.
Anyway, the game went something like you'd expect given the massive gap in talent between the two sides plus home field advantage. Chelsea looked more dangerous than their Slovakian opposition for at least 90% of the match, and out-chanced them by the slightly made up number of eleventy-billion to one. However, that one chance for Zilina came very early, and after playing a nifty series of passes around a bamboozled Chelsea back line, Babatounde Bello surged free and lashed the ball past a rather bemused looking Ross Turnbull. It was the first goal ever tallied by a Benin native in the Champions League, which was a fact I clung onto for dear life in the immediate aftermath of Zilina taking the lead, so I wouldn't have to dwell on the fact that Zilina had just taken the lead.
Fortunately Bello's excellent goal won't live in the memory as strongly as Lee Bowyer's similarly excellent goal last weekend. Chelsea's reply was reasonably swift and extremely thorough, and eventually Daniel Sturridge grabbed the equaliser and Florent Malouda won the game int he second half. Let's go through the chances generated between Zilina's opener and full time. This probably isn't an exhaustive list, but here goes:
- Malouda and van Aanholt rip open Zilina down the right before feeding Sturridge free in the middle. Sturridge delays his shot and is tackled.
- Sturridge finishes a Chelsea break by shooting wide despite Didier Drogba being free for a pass and in a better position.
- Drogba nods a Malouda cross right at the goalkeeper from very close range.
- Sturridge cuts inside and sends a curling left footed shot towards the far post, palmed away by Dubravka.
- Drogba does nice work on the touchline to escape a pair of defenders and cross to Malouda unmarked and seven yards out. Malouda heads right at the goalkeeper.
- Malouda picks up the ball 25 yards out and smashes towards goal. The ball flies a foot over the bar.
- Sturridge controls a lose ball with some pretty juggling under intense pressure, but can't get over the vall and volleys high from eight yards out.
- Another Malouda long range shot flies six inches wide after taking a wicked deflection to wrong-foot Dubravka.
Halftime (Salomon Kalou came on for Kakuta)
- Kalou receives the ball on the penalty spot and takes a snap shot, but he feet are wrong and it goes high and wide.
- Dubravka pushes the ball out but only so far as Kalou, whose goalbound shot is deflected wide by a defender.
- Kalou sends in a cross that mysteriously evades everyone except Sturridge at the back post. Sturridge nutmegs Dubravka for the equaliser.
- Drogba is sent free in the area by Sturridge, but his first touch is terrible and gives the ball straight to the keeper.
- Drogba heads straight at the goalkeeper again from a decent cross.
- The ball cannons off a Zilina defender and falls kindly for Ramires 25 yards out and central. His blistering volley swerves fractionally wide to the right.
- Drogba has a free kick 35 yards out and on a diagonal. He hits the crossbar after a fingertip save from Dubravka. Branislav Ivanovic heads over in the subsequent melee.
- Zilina apply some pressure, but Chelsea quickly break and after a pass from Sturridge, Drogba ... shoots straight at the keeper. Again.
- Ramires takes another long range shot that cannons off a defender and balloons into Dubravka's arms.
- A sixty-second goalmouth scramble that featured three or four opportunities to score ends when Sturridge shoots wide from twelve yards.
- Patrick van Aanholt sends a cracking angled shot from thirty yards off the far post with Dubravka totally beaten. The ball was hit so hard it didn't even swerve.
- Drogba is free in the box at an acute angle, but he's off-balance when he shoots and it flies over the goal in fairly comical fashion.
- Drogba totally misses the goal when given a free header from van Aanholt's cross.
- Malouda gets free in the area, pushes inside the six-yard box, and shoots the ball right at the stanchion with the goal gaping.
- Nicolas Anelka crosses the ball to Drogba, who heads down for Malouda to bundle in. 2-1.
- Ivanovic rises high to head the ball, but it's well caught by Dubravka.
By my count that's 24 pretty good chances in the match, with two goals. I think the football gods are still angry at us.
On the other hand, maximum points from the first five games and a guaranteed first-place finish in the group. There are worse things that could have happened.