Chelsea roll back the years
Drogba and Ramires score the goals as Blues win Group E
Last Updated: December 6, 2011 10:11pm
On what was supposed to be nervy night in West London, Andre Villas-Boas' Chelsea produced a performance to remind of years gone by to pick up a 3-0 victory over Valencia and progress to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.
Genk's unlikely draw with Bayer Leverkusen even ensured the Premier League club went into the last 16 as one of the top seeded teams after finishing as Group E winners, which eased some of the pressure on Villas-Boas.
The Chelsea boss, who would have faced increased scrutiny from critics and club owner Roman Abramovich had his team suffered the defeat or a score draw which would have resulted in elimination, could not have asked for a better evening.
It was not spectacular, but Villas-Boas' team were disciplined, compact and organised - adapting a different tactic of a deep defensive line - to create flashbacks to the days of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge.
Didier Drogba, an epitome of previous regimes, scored twice, while Ramires was also on target for a Chelsea side, which saw Frank Lampard remain an unused substitute, who will now prepare for next Monday's domestic meeting with Manchester City.
Villas-Boas on Monday night refused to countenance the prospect of failure, something he was nevertheless adamant would not cost him his job.
Seemingly backed to the hilt by billionaire owner Abramovich, Villas-Boas flexed his muscles this week by banishing Nicolas Anelka and Alex from his first-team squad and he was ruthless again by axing Lampard from his starting XI.
It was not the first time Lampard had been left out this season, but the midfielder's omission was arguably the most significant of his entire Chelsea career.
It demonstrated the 33-year-old was no longer guaranteed to start the big games - and it did not get any bigger than Tuesday night.
Chelsea went into their final group match in the unfamiliar position of needing to win to be certain of avoiding the humiliation of dropping into the Europa League, having thrown away victory in three of their previous five games.
So the fastest goal they had ever scored in the Champions League could hardly have been better timed, as Drogba put them ahead inside three minutes.
Daniel Sturridge picked out Juan Mata at the far post and the Spaniard squared to Drogba, who was given an age to fire left-footed beyond Diego Alves.
The sense of relief around Stamford Bridge was palpable, but the mood quickly changed, as Valencia, who still only needed one goal to knock Chelsea out, assumed complete control.
They twice went close to levelling inside the opening 10 minutes when Jordi Alba crashed a shot against the outside of the post and Petr Cech clawed David Albelda's blockbuster away from the top corner.
Villas-Boas had promised Chelsea would go on the attack, but they were playing with 11 men behind the ball at times, as the Valencia onslaught continued.
Villas-Boas' much-maligned defence was hardly looking secure, but the pressure was suddenly relieved midway through the half when Valencia produced an absolute howler in their own rearguard.
Drogba's pass looked too heavy for Ramires, but the Brazilian brushed off the feeblest of challenges from Victor Ruiz before slotting underneath the stranded Alves.
The home side were now playing almost exclusively on the break, defending as deep as they ever had done under Villas-Boas, but they almost added a third when another surge saw Alves keep out Sturridge's near-post finish.
The pattern continued after half-time, with Sturridge going close again on the counter before Valencia brought on Aritz Aduriz and changed from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 formation.
A goal for the Spaniards was all that was needed to set nerves jangling again and Cech got a crucial punch to Tino Costa's crossed free-kick before springing sideways to repel Sofiane Feghouli's goalbound drive.
Villas-Boas responded by sending on John Obi Mikel for Ramires, which yielded a mixed response from the home fans.
Drogba should have made the game safe with 18 minutes remaining when he left Adil Rami in a heap, bursting onto Sturridge's ball over the top, but dragged wide with the goal at his mercy.
The striker made amends four minutes later after being slid in by Mata and poking the ball past Alves with the outside of his right foot for his fourth goal in the last four games.
Cech produced another excellent reaction save to keep out Aduriz's header after Fernando Torres replaced Drogba.With the final whistle looming, two of Chelsea's fans got carried away and invaded the pitch but they could be forgiven after what they had been put through this season.
|2||1st Half Goals||0|
|6||Shots on Target||5|
|5||Shots off Target||3|
|31.1||1st Half Poss.||68.9|
|31||2nd Half Poss.||69|
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UEFA Champions League
Tue 6th Dec - Group H
Barcelona4 - 0BATE Borisov
Plzen2 - 2AC Milan
Tue 6th Dec - Group G
FC Porto0 - 0Zenit
Apoel Nicosia0 - 2Shak Donetsk
Tue 6th Dec - Group F
B Dortmund2 - 3Marseille
Olympiakos3 - 1Arsenal
Tue 6th Dec - Group E
Chelsea3 - 0Valencia
Genk1 - 1Leverkusen
UEFA Champions League Group A
|1||Paris St Germain||6||15|
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||6||7|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H