Football: Chelsea win on cruise control

Chelsea 3 Valerenga 0
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VALERENGA STAYED in the West End's Chelsea Village Hotel this week: it is to be hoped they were made more comfortable there than they were at the adjoining football pitch last night. On the relaid turf at Stamford Bridge, Valerenga discovered Chelsea's hospitality ended at the dressing- room door as they were comfortably dissected by a side of palpably superior ability.

This was only intermittently shown but it still brought Chelsea first- half goals by Celestine Babayaro and Gianfranco Zola and a third, five minutes from time, by Dennis Wise. Despite Valerenga's noted capacity for comebacks this cushion should be enough to survive the return in Oslo in a fortnight and ease them into the last four of the European Cup-Winners' Cup. They remain on course to become the first side to retain the trophy though Lazio may have something to say about that.

Having beaten Helsingborg of Sweden 1-0, and been held 1-1 by FC Copenhagen in their previous home ties, this was a high-scoring match by the standards of Chelsea's Scandinavian odyssey but it was not entirely satisfactory. Chances were missed and there were periods when the Norwegians had control. But Chelsea always carried the greater threat.

"We played really well. We were able to play attacking football and when we do that we can do damage," said their player-manager, Gianluca Vialli. "But it is not finished. They came back from 3-0 down in Turkey [against Besiktas]. We will have to concentrate in the second leg."

"They were too fast for us, we couldn't prevent them creating space and chances," said Egil Olsen, the Valerenga manager. "We might have had a chance at 2-0 but, while it is not impossible now, it is difficult."

Valerenga arrived with advance billing as the latest mani-festation of Olsen's unattractive brand of hoof-and-chase football and were expected to defend deep and rely on counter- attacks. Their formation, with John Carew alone in attack, indicated as much but the opening minutes contradicted this with the highly rated teenager, who is thought to have agreed a move to Bologna, backed in numbers from midfield as the visitors moved forward.

Indeed, had the Austrian referee not rescued Marcel Desailly when he was put under pressure by Joachim Walltin, running on to Carew's first-minute flick, Chelsea could have had a nightmare start. Instead they quickly exerted pressure.

After 10 minutes, with Roberto Di Matteo having already spurned a good chance, this brought reward. A nine-pass move, involving Vialli, Wise and Zola in its latter stages, concluded with Zola's pass to Babayaro, rushing up unseen on the left. The Nigerian lashed the ball inside the near post from a tight angle.

The match could have been settled within the next two minutes as Vialli twice had shots blocked. Hai Ngoc Tran intervened after Mikko Kaven had missed Le Saux's cross, then, from the subsequent corner, Walltin cleared off the line after the unmarked player-manager had been found by Desailly.

The Chelsea fans, who turned up in twice the numbers they had for previous matches in this European campaign, had instead to wait until the 26th minute when Zola, running on to Babayaro's superb pass, held off Tran before scoring.

Tom Henning Hovi, with a shot which rasped just past the post, provided a quick response from the Norwegians and a reminder to Chelsea that the tie was not over. So did Fredrik Kjolner whose shot was blocked on the line by Bernard Lambourde in first-half injury-time. Chelsea's response, with an eye on Sunday's FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, was to bring on Tore Andre Flo, in place of Zola, at half-time.

Within minutes of the resumption Chelsea should have been three up.

Vialli released Di Matteo behind the offside trap, but his shot was far too close to Kaven. Then Dan Petrescu, unchallenged, headed wide from Le Saux's cross. The England left-back, incidentally, had an outstanding game.

Chelsea still created the better chances. Le Saux, after a one-two with Vialli, almost scored; so did Di Matteo and Petrescu with 20-yard shots.

Petrescu, frustrated, was booked for dissent and it looked as if Chelsea would have to settle for the uncertain security of a two-goal lead when, with five minutes left, their movement created a third. Di Matteo played the ball in for Flo whose pass, off his body, fell for Wise, breaking through. As the visitors looked for a linesman's flag Wise coolly celebrated a rare appearance - he is not suspended in Europe -with a goal. It should be enough.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Desailly, Lambourde, Le Saux; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Wise, Babayaro; Vialli, Zola (Flo, h-t). Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Myers, Nicholls, Newton, Morris, Terry.

Valerenga (4-5-1): Kaven; Berntsen, Haraldsen, Kjolner, Tran; Haug (Kaasa, 58), Walltin, Levernes (Simpson, 86), Hovi, Riisnaes; Carew. Substitutes not used: Bolthof, Karlsen, Musaeus, Oedegaard, Thorsten.

Referee: G Benko (Austria).

United verdict, page 28