It was with the cool detachment of a great centre-forward that Nicolas Anelka dispatched Chelsea's second goal from the penalty spot last night; a reminder that in the early stages of this competition the champions of England can make it look blissfully simple.
Anelka's most infamous Champions League penalty for Chelsea will always be that one in the final in Moscow two years ago that was saved by Edwin van der Sar which meant that the trophy went to Manchester United. As easy as Chelsea make the Champions League look in the autumn, everyone at Stamford Bridge knows that it is in May that the crunch comes.
Last night, Carlo Ancelotti's team flicked Marseilles aside with the ease of a team who are veterans of the group stages. From the moment that John Terry's opening goal crept inside Marseilles' near post in the seventh minute, Chelsea looked safe. They might be the champions of France but Stamford Bridge can be a humbling place on nights such as these.
Anelka's penalty was the night's stand-out moment, an insouciant shuffle towards the ball before it was prodded into the corner without Steve Mandanda in the Marseilles goal even diving. To say that Anelka got a frosty reception from the away fans would be putting it mildly but, in their part of the world, once a Paris St-Germain man, always a Paris St-Germain man.
Chelsea's French striker was excellent last night leading the line in the absence of Didier Drogba, serving the second game of a two-match suspension from last season. At half-time Chelsea's striker came onto the pitch to greet the Marseilles fans who received him rapturously. Substituted against Manchester City on Saturday, Drogba will surely come back into the team against Arsenal on Sunday. Last night he was not missed.
Ancelotti acknowledged that Marseilles turned the game around to a degree in the second half but even this most courteous of managers could not really say that his team were ever in danger. "Marseilles were in the game to the end," he said. "They play good football. They wanted to score. We played very well in the first half though and we have a good defence.
"It's a little bit different [without Drogba]. We can use the power and ability of Drogba in the box and he has a different kind of movement in the final third. It is better that Drogba is in the game but we can play without him."
After two successive defeats in the Carling Cup to Newcastle United and Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday, this was a return to business as usual for Chelsea. The Marseilles manager Didier Deschamps, who as coach of Monaco in 2004 was responsible for eliminating Chelsea in the semi-finals, was left to reflect that even missing Drogba and Frank Lampard this is still a formidable team.
A former Chelsea player himself, Deschamps' best-laid plans were undone by the early goal. It was Terry's first for 26 games, a clever run to the near post for Gaël Kakuta's corner and a flick that took the ball between the post and Edouard Cissé who was supposed to be guarding it. It was an unforgivable bit of defending from the former West Ham man.
If you think Cissé has done well to reach the Champions League, bear in mind that Marseilles' centre-back Souleymane Diawara once played for Charlton Athletic. He struggled against Anelka who, inspired by the stick from the away end, was a real threat in the first half.
The penalty against Marseilles on 27 minutes was harsh. Michael Essien's shot from the right struck the hand of Stephane Mbia as he jumped to block the shot and the Belgian referee gave a penalty. Deschamps said later that "it was a penalty because the referee gave it," which was his way of saying that he did not agree with the decision.
With much shouting, whistling and making of provocative gestures from the Marseilles fans in Anelka's sightline behind the goal he took it brilliantly. It was a stroll rather than a run-up which completely deceived Mandanda.
Asked later whether Anelka's penalty-taking was too much on the casual side to be comfortable for a manager, Ancelotti disagreed. "I don't have to say to Anelka how he has to take a penalty," he said. "He can do this. He scored two goals [from the penalty spot in two games including the Carling Cup tie]. I'm happy with that."
Anelka's penalty established for Chelsea a position of strength that they never looked like relinquishing. They were obliged to absorb some pressure from Marseilles at the start of the second half but this Chelsea side are the masters of Champions League group-stage football. They can slow play down, speed it up, attack or soak up pressure.
It may be a different story in November when Chelsea go to the Stade Velodrome for the last game of this group but by that time they will surely have qualified for the knockout stages. John Obi Mikel looked, as he has this season, much more assured in midfield. Terry and Alex da Costa were so dominant that the centre-forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, the France international, was substituted before the hour.
There was a booming free-kick from Alex on 66 minutes, struck from around 35 yards out, that hit the post with Mandanda unmoved. In the last 15 minutes Essien hit the post and struck another shot wide as Chelsea took total control.
Josh McEachran was given the last few minutes and looked assured again. Along with Kakuta he is being introduced gradually in games that matter to get a taste of playing for Chelsea at the very highest level. They are the future for Chelsea, although Ancelotti will be expected to win this competition long before his youngsters come of age.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Essien, Mikel (McEachran, 88), Zhirkov (Sturridge, 73); Kakuta (Ramires, 61), Anelka, Malouda. Substitutes not used Turnbull (gk), Ferreira,, Van Aanholt, Bruma.
Marseilles (4-3-3) Mandanda: Kabore, Diawara, Mbia, Heinze; Gonzalez, Cisse, Cheyrou (Ayew, 59); Remy, Gignac (Valbuen, 59), Brandao. Substitutes not used Andrade (gk), Azpilicueta, Taiwo, Hilton, Abriel.
Man of the match Anelka
Referee F De Bleeckere (Neth)
Match rating 6.
Results so far MSK Zilina 1 Chelsea 4, Marseilles 0 Spartak 1; Chelsea 2 Marseilles 0, Spartak 3 MSK Zilina 0.
Chelsea's remaining fixtures 19 Oct Spartak (a); 3 Nov Spartak (h); 23 Nov MSK Zilina (a); 8 Dec Marseilles (a).
Spartak Moscow 3-0 MSK Zilina
Spartak followed up their opening day victory at Marseilles with a convincing win on a rain-soaked artificial pitch in Moscow. The Russians' early domination was rewarded with goals from two of their Brazilian contingent. Ari scored the first with a looping header from Alex's corner after 34 minutes and added a second with a tap in of Kombarov's cross on the hour. Ibson converted a Maidana cross late on to seal the win.
Few, if any, direct saves to make from a weak Marseilles attack. Handled and kicked well enough when required. 7
Strong in defence with one or two shuddering tackles, the right-back was keen as ever to push forward and also join set-pieces. 6
Left limping a couple of times early on, Chelsea's captain remained as strong as usual when Marseilles came forward more after half-time. 7
First-choice alongside Terry now that Carvalho has gone, he stood up well in physical battle. Smashed 35-yard free-kick against post. 7
Enjoyed his sorties down the left, hitting one fierce right-footed drive over the bar. Solid in keeping highly rated Loïc Rémy quiet. 7
Won the penalty from out on the right wing. Otherwise busy without getting forward until hitting the post in the second half. 7
John Obi Mikel
Sat deepest of the midfield trio. Mishit one shot that could have brought only his third goal in 174 games. 6
Preferred to the Brazilian Ramires, and justified selection. Uefa stats confirmed he covered more ground than anyone. 7
On his second European start, the French teenager showed considerable confidence and some nice touches in the hour he was allowed. 7
Leading the line in Didier Drogba's absence, made little headway on either side of stroking in the coolest of penalty kicks. 5
After an off-day at the weekend, Chelsea's third Frenchman had his moments without recovering scintillating early-season form. 6
Ramires (for Kakuta, 61) Dropped after a poor game at Man City, the midfielder was given half an hour in the second half. 5
D Sturridge (for Zhirkov, 72) Laid off a neat pass or two but missed good chance laid on by Cole. 6
J McEachran (for Mikel, 88) The 17-year-old gained a bit more experience, adding to a career that should blossom given the chance n/a
Steve TongueReuse content