Chelsea got their Champions League campaign off to a flying start with an emphatic victory over MSK Zilinia. The Slovakian side had their fair share of chances, but ultimately did little to trouble a below-strength Chelsea side. The Blues were without Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, or Ashley Cole, but some defensive trouble down the left aside, the absentees were not sorely missed in a night which will be remembered more for the Champions League debuts of Josh McEachran, Patrick van Aanholt, Daniel Sturridge, and Gael Kakuta than for European dramatics. Indeed, it was almost too easy for Chelsea, and after they raced into an early lead they took their foot off the gas and let Zilina do the lion's share of attacking.
The home side pressed forward in the very early stages, aided by some sloppy play at left back from Yuri Zhirkov. The Russian has been without first team football for the better part of the year, and it showed in his ponderous touch and occasionally odd decision making. Putting Chelsea on the back foot early seemed to give Zilina confidence to attack, and while many will trumpet the merits of self-belief and faith, a team like MSK Zilina throwing themselves forward against the Blues was only ever going to lead to one outcome.
Florent Malouda had given the hosts notice as he just failed to control a long ball behind Zilina's lines, but they would not - or could not - take heed. Minutes later, the impressive Yossi Benayoun slipped a pass straight through the defence to set Nicolas Anelka free. The striker slipped the ball to Malouda, who flicked it into the path of Michael Essien's thunderous run. The ball was twelve yards from goal and there could only be one outcome. Thirteen minutes in and Chelsea were up 1-0.
Another long pass gave Chelsea their second, but this time Anelka needed no help. He picked the ball up on the left, took a touch, and slotted it in at the far post with the keeper helpless to stop it, possibly due to a lack of talent. Chances were coming hard and fast now, and it wasn't long until Chelsea got their third. Daniel Sturridge, who had been enthusiastic if not particularly effective, smashed in a shot on goal. The keeper saved, but a corner was the result, from which Zilina's defence left John Terry wide open. The ball struck the crossbar rather than the net, but happily for Anelka the next thing it his was his right foot about nine inches away from the goal. It was as easy a chance as you'll ever see, and just like that it was 3-0 Blues before the game was even half an hour old.
There might have been even more goals in the first half, but Chelsea were unusually profligate in front of goal. Zhirkov, Malouda, and Terry could each easily have put them further ahead, but it almost seemed as though the team would refuse to take chances unless they were perfect. Meanwhile, Zilina rarely had the ball, and were reduced to long-range efforts in their rare forays forward.
Half time came and went, and within seconds of the restart Chelsea had scored again. Michael Essien picked the ball up in the middle of the Chelsea half and played the ball to Malouda. He slipped a pass between two Zilina midfielders for Yossi Benayoun, who sent Sturridge clear with an excellent through ball. The youngster's first touch wasn't perfect, but he recovered well, rounded the goalkeeper, and slotted home.
At 4-0 it seemed there was nothing the home side could do to prevent Chelsea raking up even more goals, but they quickly answered under somewhat peculiar circumstances. A cross came in from the left, Petr Cech came out to collect, flapped helplessly a few times, and watched as the ball bounced off the back of Branislav Ivanovic's head before coming to a stop on the goalline for about half a second before the right boot of Tomas Oravec gratefully lashed it home.
If anyone was expecting that to be a catalyst for another round of Chelsea pummeling the goal, they were to be sorely disappointed. Zilina were seeing plenty of the ball, and having a good deal of joy down the Chelsea left, with Zhirkov caught out of position far too often for comfort. Even with Terry covering for him, holes were opened in the defence and the home side threatened to score several more times. However, the Blues had their fair share of chances in the second half as well, and were consistently breaking free only to be let down by a poor final touch.
After Zilina scoured, Sturridge and Anelka were not nearly as effective in executing the rapid counterattack that has become Chelsea's signature goal. Both were clumsy in possession and Anelka in particular was playing some bizarre passes, giving the ball back to the hosts as often as he completed a pass. Fortunately, Michael Essien and Jon Obi Mikel were once again proving formidable in front of the defence, and Zilina's repeated attempts to go through the middle mostly just gave Chelsea the ball back.
Sturridge was withdrawn for Gael Kakuta slightly after the hour mark, but the substitution barely had any effect at all. Kakuta saw plenty of the ball, but like Sturridge wasn't as his best on the night and wasted a few chances to create shooting opportunities for his teammates. However, some mazy runs and a disallowed goal gave Chelsea fans a glimpse at one of our prized youth talents.
Two more youngsters came in in the last few minutes as Josh McEachran and Patrick van Aanholt were committed to the fray. McEachran became the first player ever born after the Champions League began to play in the tournament, but his contributions were mostly of the slow, sideways variety, and van Aanholt barely got a touch. McEachran probably could have nicked a goal on his debut, but the offside flag came up (incorrectly) to deny the 17-year old a dream start to his Chelsea career.
There was nothing the flags could do to deny Chelsea on the night, however. With a three goal cushion not even the most threatening attacks could raise Ancelotti's blood pressure, and the Blues ended the day at the top of Group F. Bring on Marseilles!