Anelka gets Chelsea back to winning ways

Apoel Nicosia 0 Chelsea 1
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The Independent Online

Chelsea stuttered to an unconvincing victory over Apoel Nicosia thanks to a first-half goal from Nicolas Anelka.

The Blues, hammered 3-1 by Wigan in the Barclays Premier League last Saturday, produced another lacklustre performance against the Cypriot champions.

But victory keeps Chelsea top of Group D with a 100% record, even if the performance does not bode well for their home clash with title rivals Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Boss Carlo Ancelotti certainly did not get the reaction he wanted following their defeat at Wigan and better opponents would have given the English side much more to deal with.

The Cypriots, playing their first Champions League game at home, began the game full of passion and desire.

They sprayed the ball around with confidence in the opening moments but for a team that had already beaten Partizan Belgrade and FC Copenhagen in the qualifiers, some self-assurance was only to be expected.

Those results, allied to a creditable opening Group D draw with Atletico Madrid, had put Apoel on the footballing map.

But despite their bright opening, they created little to concern the English side who began to take control of the midfield.

Chelsea's first real opportunity arrived in the ninth minute when Michael Essien sent a 20-yard drive wide of the right-hand post.

Frank Lampard should have done better when a mistake by Chrysostomos Michail allowed Chelsea to create an opening on the edge of the penalty area in the 13th minute.

But the England midfielder's effort ran tamely wide from 20 yards while Salomon Kalou also wasted an opportunity when the ball fell to him inside the penalty area.

Chelsea went ahead in the 18th minute though when Juliano Belletti made a fine run down the right flank before pulling the ball back superbly for Anelka to send a curling drive into the roof of the net.

Anelka's fourth goal of the season was his second in this Champions League campaign, the France international having scored the only goal of their opening round victory over Porto at Stamford Bridge.

The Cypriots had lost their early fire now and while the 22,000 Apoel fans tried to lift their side, Chelsea's dominance was overwhelming.

There was little guile in Apoel's attacks and consequently they had no cohesion about their play.

The home side gave the ball away far too cheaply but Chelsea failed to make the most of their possession.

Ancelotti was clearly unhappy, although a sublime reverse pass in the 41st minute by Lampard almost conjured a second for the Blues.

However, Ashley Cole's cross was cleared by the home defence before Anelka had chance to pounce.

Although the Blues dominated, they were pedestrian in their approach and careless with their passing.

Their frustration boiled over in the 43rd minute when Kalou was booked for a challenge on Nectarious Alexandrou.

Chelsea were guilty of giving the ball away cheaply at the start of the second-half but Apoel were unable to make the Blues pay for their carelessness though.

Chelsea increased the tempo but their decision-making remained poor and they struggled to find a way through the home defence.

Apoel had more of the possession but despite some neat approach play from Apoel, the final ball let them down time and again.

In the 64th minute Chelsea had Petr Cech to thank for preserving their lead when he saved superbly from Savvas Poursaitides.

The Apoel midfielder surged into the area after Florent Malouda's attempted headed clearance had fallen into his path and Cech had to save with his feet to prevent the home side scoring a shock equaliser.

Apoel were now testing the Blues and Cole had to clear a dangerous cross as the home side increased the pressure.

Ancelotti's answer was to replace Belletti with Portugal international Deco in the 68th minute.

Chelsea were now on the back foot and Ancelotti, hands in pockets in the technical area, was not happy.

Joe Cole was introduced with 10 minutes remaining as a replacement for Kalou.

Constantinos Charalambides almost shocked Chelsea with an equaliser in the 85th minute but he headed wide at the far post.

But Chelsea held on to record a second 1-0 success that keeps them top of the table.

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