Football: Chelsea tame Lazio to appease banished Vialli

Lazio 0 Chelsea 0
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The Independent Online
GIANLUCA VIALLI'S contention that his team find playing in the Champions' League easier than the Premiership was borne out again on a chilly night in Rome, as Chelsea added an invaluable away point against the Group D favourites to their comprehensive victory over Feyenoord a fortnight ago. Vialli, however, was not around to see the final 35 minutes, having been banished from the touchline for allegedly swearing at a referee's assistant.

Chelsea showed greater discipline than their manager and in frustrating his fellow countrymen remained above them at the top of the table at least until the next round of matches, when they play at home to Marseilles on 21 February.

It was an infinitely more composed effort than the debacle at Sunderland last Saturday and keeping a clean sheet so comfortably against the range of attacking talent that Lazio were able to deploy made some recent domestic results look all the more bewildering. Now Vialli hopes that the psychological benefits can be translated into improved performances in England while continental ambitions take a midwinter break.

"I apologise if I did something wrong," he said of his sending off. "Nobody is perfect. It's a great result. It was difficult because of what happened on Saturday so at the beginning we were a bit tense and anxious. Then we gained a bit of confidence and realised we could play well."

Vialli had sent out the expected side, restoring Frank Leboeuf, Albert Ferrer and Dan Petrescu, while Sven-Goran Eriksson risked the wrath of the small home crowd (38,662) by leaving the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas on the substitutes' bench until half-time. His introduction had little effect, with the visitors untroubled throughout the second half.

Smoke from the giant sparklers of the home supporters was still thick in the air when Chelsea conceded three successive corners. Tore Andre Flo backheaded the second of them dangerously across his own goal and another allowed the Czech Pavel Nedved a shot that buzzed uncomfortably close. After Saturday, the Londoners seemed happy to settle for containment in the first quarter of an hour and by the time that became half an hour they had begun to move forward more aggressively.

In the 16th minute, their first coherent move saw Gustavo Poyet feed Petrescu for a cross that Flo headed at goal, only to be penalised for pushing. A header over the bar by Desailly promised a more sustained offensive that was halted by Roberto Mancini bursting into the penalty area before overrunning the ball.

Flo, juggling Leboeuf's forward pass adroitly and then almost reaching Petrescu's chip, altered the balance again but the best chance before the interval fell to Simone Inzaghi. Leboeuf and Desailly, tending to lie very deep, lost a marginal offside decision as Juan Veron headed the ball beyond them for Inzaghi, who was clear but allowed Ed De Goey to save at his near post.

Official half-time statistics showing five Lazio shots to Chelsea's three and 54 per cent of possession to the home side were a fair reflection of the play but were not figures to discourage Chelsea. Eriksson was evidently dissatisfied with the use to which his team had put their advantage and replaced Inzaghi for the second half with Salas in the hope of greater penetration.

Vialli's influence on proceedings diminished 10 minutes after the interval, when he was sent from the dug-out by the German referee, Helmut Krug. Chelsea's manager had been incensed by Fernando Couto's gamesmanship in falling down clutching his face after a minor brush with Flo. Vialli ran along the touchline to complain vigorously to a linesman and was reported by the fourth official. Vialli watched the rest of the game on a television monitor as Ray Wilkins exhorted the troops from the touchline - the other coach, Graham Rix, could not travel, having not received his passport back after his spell in prison.

To their mutual delight Chelsea held firm and, after Lombardo had glanced a corner against the outside of a post, were as close as the home side to a goal. In the 73rd minute the right-back, Guerino Gottardi, only just managed to touch away Gianfranco Zola's curling chip at the far post as Celestine Babayaro bore down on him.

Lazio (4-4-2) Marchegiani; Gottardi, Nesta, Couto, Favalli; Lombardo (Boksic, 68), Veron, Simeone, Nedved; Mancini (Conceicao, 78), Inzaghi (Salas, h-t). Substitutes not used: Marcolin, Sensini, Pinzi Ballotta (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro; Petrescu, Deschamps (Di Matteo, 75), Wise, Poyet; Flo, Zola. Substitutes not used: Hogh, Sutton, Goldbaek, Morris, Lambourde, Cudicini (gk).

Referee: H Krug (Germany).