Chelsea struck twice in the first half and spent the rest of the game absorbing intense pressure from the hosts to come away from Moscow with all three points. It was a clash between two teams with 100% records in Group F, and with a host of Chelsea injuries combined with Spartak's natural advantage on their home turf, many pegged this as potentially the most difficult fixture the Blues would face in the group stages. However, a Yuri Zhirkov thunderbolt plus a dainty finish from Nicolas Anelka put Chelsea on course for what ended up being a fairly comprehensive victory.
The early stages were mixed, with the visitors dominating possession in the freezing conditions but not really looking that threatening. Meanwhile, Spartak seemed content to attack as speed on the transition, and the Chelsea defenders were having trouble stopping them, with mistimed (but mostly just missed) tackles occurring with rather alarming frequency. Spartak fashioned some pretty good chances in the opening 20 minutes, with Dmitri Kombarov blazing over when he found himself in space twelve yards out and Petr Cech being forced to save smartly after good work by Welliton to control a cross and shoot.
The goal galvanised Carlo Ancelotti's men still further, and the home side were nowhere near getting the ball. Three or four good opportunities presented themselves within the next ten minutes, but the Blues would have to wait until nearly the stroke of halftime to score the vital second. After squandering a one-on-one with Dikan, Anelka might have been expected to muff a glorious chance created by a surging run from Michael Essien, who once again impressed as the rock in Chelsea's midfield. Anelka, with the ball glued to his feet, shimmied past one defender, wrong footed the goalie, and got a unstoppable far-post shot away all within a second or so. Anelka might be wasteful, but he scores some rather remarkable goals when he's on - and he's now the Blues' leading scoring in all competitions this season, with an implausible eight.
Half time came and went, with Ancelotti not changing a thing after what had been a vintage Chelsea performance. There was a bit of the hairdryer treatment going on in the other dressing room, however, and Spartak came out with all guns blazing, putting the Blues under the cosh for the better part of the second half. Chelsea almost seemed to be treating things as a defensive drill, giving the ball away and inviting yet another wave of attacks from the home team. Shots were whizzing in left and right - a couple really troubled Petr Cech - and there was virtually nothing from the Blues to indicate that the state of affairs was about to change.
Change it slowly did, though, as the defensive line slowly pushed Spartak away from the Chelsea goal and forced them into increasingly ridiculous long range efforts. The midfield were also retaining possession a little better, and there were a few very nice chances to extend the lead. The best of them fell to Essien after exceptional work from Salomon Kalou, but Essien screwed a shot wide and the chance was gone. By the end of the match, Kalou, Florent Malouda, and Ashley Cole had all been taken off and replaced with teenagers - Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, and Patrick van Aanholt were all given a few minutes worth of playing time as Chelsea watched the clock roll down. After a few tense goalmouth scrambles as Spartak desperately groped for a lifeline, two minutes of stoppage time were up and Chelsea had secured an unexpectedly easy victory.
Nine points out of three matches, including two away from home, is obviously a very nice set of results for the Blues, and puts them top of Group F by a three point margin. Qualifying is virtually assured now: We need two points out of our next three games to 'guarantee' second, and five in three to reach the 14 point mark which has historically always yielded first place in the group. With home fixtures against MSK Zilina and Spartak Moscow still to come, it's very possible that Chelsea earn top spot in the group before a tough away match at Marseilles.
A good day's work, even if the foot was taken off the pedal at the end.