Anelka fires but Chelsea miss Drogba

Chelsea 1 Porto 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Didier Drogba shook the hands of a few supporters at the final whistle and took his leave down the tunnel – which was a good deal more dignified than his last Champions League exit on this ground. The first big game without Drogba had been negotiated by Chelsea but no one needed telling twice that this team is not the same without him.

The winning goal was scored by Nicolas Anelka, a delicate chipped finish after his initial, fiercely-hit shot had been saved. For that moment alone the finesse in front of goal that comes as standard with Drogba was replicated but there were too many times when the decisive touch of the big man from the Ivory Coast was badly missed.

That was why there was a frantic defensive action from Chelsea as Porto tried their luck in the last 10 minutes when really Carlo Ancelotti's team should have been comfortably home and dry. Dry was not really the word on a night when west London was deluged with a downpour so relentless that at times Chelsea's stars passed the ball as if they were wearing the wrong boots on a devilishly slick surface.

A couple of miles north at Loftus Road, Queen's Park Rangers' game against Crystal Palace was called off because of a waterlogged pitch and the rain made no distinction between the Championship and the Champions League. The conditions did not make it any easier for Chelsea, they were not at their most fluent in their first group game but they got the job done. Drogba will miss the next two Champions League fixtures against APOEL and Atletico Madrid through suspension for his outburst against Barcelona in May, but it will be his absence for the African Cup of Nations in the new year that will hurt as well. Anelka is not a bad replacement but on nights such as these Chelsea really miss a centre-forward capable of putting the finishing touches to periods of dominance.

It is the first small step on the long Champions League journey that Chelsea have embarked upon in the previous six years in pursuit of the one trophy that Roman Abramovich's money has not been able to buy. They look no less equipped to win it than usual. You just have to wonder where the goals would come from if the team was to lose Anelka as well as Drogba.

As Porto pressed for an equaliser in the closing stages of the match, their midfielder Fernando was sent off for a dismal tackle on Ashley Cole that earned him a second booking. His was not the worst challenge of the night – that dishonour belonged to the Porto right-back Fucile whose two-footed lunge on Florent Malouda was so full-blooded that you shudder to think of the damage had he made contact.

This Porto team bears no resemblance to the side that won the 2004 Champions League with Jose Mourinho. In fact, as Ricardo Carvalho, who played in that team, pointed out before the game, there are more veterans of that 2004 side at Chelsea than there are at Porto. Like most summers, the Portuguese club have had to sell this year but they are wily campaigners at this level and they kept Chelsea out in the first half.

There was one iffy moment for Petr Cech in the first half when a shot from Porto's Brazilian striker Hulk – Givanildo Vieira de Souza if you want to be polite – looked so unpredictable that the goalkeeper saved with his knees. Chelsea created plenty of chances. A header from Frank Lampard stood out. When they were on their game, Chelsea weaved some beautiful moves down the left wing, most notably an interchange between Malouda and Lampard that presented Anelka with a chance that he hit straight at Helton. Salomon Kalou might have done better – Drogba surely would – when Lampard chested a ball in to his stride.

As Chelsea do when the game appears to be slipping away from them, they scored. Three minutes after half-time, Kalou flicked the ball on to Anelka whose first shot was saved by Helton. When the rebound came back, the striker chipped his shot beautifully inside the near post.

It was hard on Helton, who had done more than any other in the Porto team to keep his team in the game but Chelsea should have scored many more. Their was an invitation to score a second 10 minutes later when Branislav Ivanovic's cross found Kalou unmarked and his header forced another great save from Helton.

There was no run-out for Joe Cole, on the substitutes' bench for the first time since he ruptured his cruciate ligaments in January, but he did get an exceptionally warm welcome from the Chelsea fans. He looked over longingly at Ancelotti as the clock ran down. This has to be the toughest midfield in the Premier League to break into, especially with Malouda on such good form.

Porto's best chance was a volley that Silvestre Varela struck into the ground and forced a good save out of Cech before Fernando was sent off. It was strangely tense at the end but it often is when you fail to take your chances.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Essien; Kalou (Belletti, 77), Ballack, Lampard, Malouda; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), J Cole, Sturridge, Hutchinson, Bruma, Borini.

Porto (4-3-3): Helton; Fucile, Rolando, B Alves, Pereira; Guarin, Fernando, Meireles; Gonzalez (Falcao, 54), Hulk, Rodriguez (Varela, 64). Substitutes not used: Nuno (gk), Belluschi, Maicon, Costa, Sapunaru.

Referee: K Plautz (Austria).