Chelsea qualify as group winners after decimation of Valencia


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The Independent Online

There are some games in which only a vintage performance from Didier Drogba will do for Chelsea, and luckily for Andre Villas-Boas last night, in his hour of direst need, the young manager got one from his old battle-scarred striker.

This was, in the end, the sledgehammer Drogba of his golden years, the sledgehammer with the gossamer touch, who can take defences on single-handed and make opponents doubt their own capabilities. His first goal after three minutes calmed Stamford Bridge's mood, his second – his team's third – put the game beyond doubt and in between he led the line alone as only he can do.

The draw between Genk and Bayer Leverkusen meant that from their previously precarious position, Chelsea ran out winners of Group E and so avoid some of the more daunting opponents in the first knockout round in February. The club's young manager has survived his first serious crisis, although there will be more, you feel, before this white-knuckle ride of a season is over.

With just this season left on his contract and the years advancing at the age of 33, Drogba is rarely the force he once was on nights such as these. But he put himself about and his finish inside three minutes from a cutback by Juan Mata (below) in the area was sweet. The ball was switched from his right foot to his left and driven past goalkeeper Diego Alves.

Valencia were superb at times and they hit the post two minutes after Drogba's goal with a shot from left-back Jordi Alba. The midfielder David Albelda forced a fine save from Petr Cech on 10 minutes.

It was on the counter-attack once more that Chelsea scored their second. Drogba slipped the ball through to Ramires, who made an angled run from right to left and forced his way past Victor Ruiz who, unforgivably, allowed himself to be outmuscled. The Brazilian squeezed the ball in at the near post and the gap between the teams became more comfortable for Chelsea.

It fell to Drogba to see out the game with one of those Superman-style cameos. First he bounced the centre-half Adil Rami out of the way and ran on goal to put his shot wide. Then he scored Chelsea's third in triumphant style from Mata's pass.

The ball through a very square Valencia back four exploited the weaknesses of this team's defence and there was no one Villas-Boas would rather have had there – certainly not Fernando Torres – to tuck it away.