Instead poor finishing, good goalkeeping, dogged defence and luck kept them down to two goals. Roberto Di Matteo scored after six minutes, Danny Granville after 80.
Given Chelsea's obvious superiority, two goals ought to be enough to win this first round tie. Yet they will travel warily to Slovakia for the second leg a fortnight hence. Slovan rarely attempted to attack last night but, when they did, their movement exposed Chelsea's often static defence even though Ed de Goey did not need to make a save all night.
Miroslav Konig made plenty. The Italian trio of Gianfranco Vialli, Di Matteo and Gianluca Vialli were especially frustrated, as was Dennis Wise, who was again excellent. Zola also hit the bar with a 20th-minute free- kick and Vialli the post after 37. They were two of 29 goal attempts by Chelsea.
"It was an excellent performance," Ruud Gullit said, "although we could have scored more goals. You have those days, sometimes you do not score at all. We were really thrilled to score the second, and it is good we did not give anything away. I feel very comfortable about the second leg."
That makes two men, for Jozef Prochotsky, the Slovan coach, said he was also "looking forward'' to it, adding: "This was a good result for us.''
Such has been the pace of change at Chelsea that only one player survived from their last European match, the 1995 semi-final of this competition. That player was Gustavo Poyet, who was then playing for Chelsea's opponents, Real Zaragoza.
Not that the new men are all highly-priced foreigners. Granville, a cheap signing from Cambridge United in the spring, was one full-back and Paul Hughes, a youth product, the other.
He was involved in the opening goal, taking a pass from Zola and finding Dan Petrescu. The Romanian slipped a pass into Di Matteo, who scored from just inside the area.
Stamford Bridge sensed a rout but, instead of rising to inspire it, they sat back to enjoy. The gate was more than 6,000 below capacity, high ticket prices and live television keeping people away. Those who had turned up grew increasingly nervous until Wise played a pass into the box and Granville, after controlling the ball, flicked it over a defender and hooked it in. His first goal for the club could prove a very important one.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; P Hughes, Leboeuf, Duberry, Granville; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Wise, Poyet; Zola, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Gullit, M Hughes, Myers, Flo, Nicholls, Morris, Hitchcock (gk).
Slovan Bratislava (1-3-5-1): Konig; Glonek; Pecko, Antalovic, Hornyak; Novak (Timko, 50), Sobona, Tomaschek, Gunda, Kereszturi (Moder, 80); Borisenko (Muslay, 63). Substitutes not used: Kentos, Pukalovic, Puchner, Bernady (gk).
Referee: R Boggi (Italy).Reuse content