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Chelsea 2-0 Marseille: Game Recap

Didier Drogba, serving the final game of his two-match suspension, was keenly missed in Chelsea's attack.
Didier Drogba, serving the final game of his two-match suspension, was keenly missed in Chelsea's attack.

Chelsea took care of French rivals Marseille to make it six points out of six in Group F without ever really exerting themselves with goals from John Terry and Nicolas Anelka securing a 2-0 victory in London. Chelsea looked strong for the majority of the game but had some major issues with ball retention at times, especially at the beginning of the second half - but a weaker second-half performance has to be taken into the context of the overall game: Chelsea were up by a brace within half an hour, and Marseille never really got a clean sight of goal, even during the periods where they were pressing the home team hard.

Much like the contest against MSK Zilina, Chelsea looked uncomfortable for the first few minutes. The Blues soon settle down, though, looking particularly dangerous on the left, where Florent Malouda was combining very well with Yuri Zhirkov and Ashley Cole. The defence seemed unsure exactly what to do with Malouda, and they very nearly paid for their indecisiveness when he burst through the lines and slammed a shot goalwards in the sixth minute, forcing goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to tip away at full stretch. It was merely a stay of execution for the visiting team, however, as Gael Kakuta dumped in a corner to the near post and captain John Terry was able to flick the ball home at the near post, the ball eluding Benoit Cheyrou, who seemed half-asleep as the shot squeezed between his legs and the woodwork.

At 1-0 up, Chelsea were rampant, albeit in a slightly strange way - the midfield play was genuinely excellent, but the Blues were guilty of being overly intricate in the final third, with Didier Drogba's absence felt keenly. Chelsea were lacking a focal point with which to direct their attacks, and Nicolas Anelka was playing so deep it often looked like they weren't playing any strikers at all. An attack had broken down when the right when Michael Essien regained possession and sent a cross back into the mixer, which was promptly swiped out of the air by the flailing arms of Stephane M'Bia, a decision which people seemed to find harsh. This wasn't a case of ball to hand - M'Bia's hands were clearly moving towards the path of the ball, and the ball would have continued unimpeded had it not made contact with the hands, so even if it's accidental, it's a clear (albeit unfortunate) handball.

Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take the spot kick and nonchalantly dinked the ball into the net, leaving a bemused Mandanda standing as the ball sashayed into the net. A couple of minutes later, Chelsea should have had another penalty, only to be denied after being flattened while making his way towards goal. The referee was disinclined to give another call, though, and Chelsea had to be content to keep attacking. If not for the timing and accuracy of the final ball, we might very well have called the attack a masterclass, but the home side was repeatedly straying offside or seeing their passes ricochet off a defender. When the half-time whistle blew, Marseille were desperate to get off the field.

Something changed after the teams came back out after the break. The visitors had the ball for what seemed like 20 minutes straight, hoovering up errant passes from pretty much every Chelsea player on the pitch. While nothing Marseille did was particularly dangerous, it's a little bit miraculous that they failed to score considering that they were on the attack for something approximating a quarter of the game. It took the introduction of Daniel Sturridge to move the game Chelsea's way again (Gael Kakuta had already been withdrawn for Ramires), and he instantly provided an outlet down the right side for the defence. The Blues sprung back to life, hitting the woodwork several times in the late stages of the half, with two mid-rangers from Michael Essien as well as a thunderous 40-yard free kick by Alex rattling Mandanda's posts. Sturridge also missed a sitter by trying to be overly fancy as the ball was whipped in towards him inside the six-yard box, the England U-21 striker only able to divert Florent Malouda's delivery wide as he tried to flick the ball goalwards with the back of his left leg.

In the post-game interview, John Terry was asked about the poor performance in the second half, and he rightly pointed out that Chelsea might have had as many as four goals after the break, and that Marseille scored exactly zero times, and uncomfortable as the team was. All in all, the fact that Chelsea were thoroughly 'outplayed' and yet gave up no notable chances to the visiting side is a great sign for the team.

Spartak Moscow won their home game against MSK Zilina 3-0, so the Blues are tied with them on points but ahead on goal differential, both teams six points ahead of third place. Chelsea's next match, on October 19th, is a difficult away fixture in Moscow - win that game and the Blues are three points ahead of the pack with two games still to be played at home, and are virtually guaranteed qualification.

All in all, a job well done.

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