What do Chelsea and Gelsenkirchen, the gritty industrial Ruhr hometown of Schalke, have in common? Neither of them are really built with entertainment in mind. Avram Grant's mission is to change all that and usher in a new era of fantasy football at Stamford Bridge, although for the time being it looks suspiciously like he is happy to win matches by any means possible.
From the top of Group B, life looks a lot more comfortable for Chelsea than seven games ago when a half-empty Stamford Bridge bore witness to Jose Mourinho's last match in charge, that desperate draw with Rosenborg. And as Roman Abramovich stepped into his limo last night he could at least comfort himself with the knowledge that stability has been restored but, at the back of his mind that nagging question: could life be better than this?
On the occasion of Abramovich's 41st birthday yesterday, his friends, cronies and hangers-on will have been asking the same question they pose around this time every year: what do you get for the Russian billionaire who has everything? The answer could be found 24 hours earlier in the Emirates Stadium where Arsenal ran riot against Slavia Prague, scored seven goals and sent their supporters home in raptures.
Grant will have felt a little more deflated than usual after a post-match press conference in which he was deluged with questions about entertainment value and comparisons with Arsenal. So far unflappable, even Grant seemed to be tiring. "I respect Arsenal but we are not taking an example from other clubs," he said. "We want to play our game. We are going step-by-step, even Arsène Wenger said he needed more than a year."
Grant has to take responsibility for making that particular rod for his own back – he even mentioned entertainment in his programme notes again yesterday. Florent Malouda was gifted a goal within five minutes through an appalling error by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer – who seemed personally determined to give Abramovich a birthday present. Within two minutes of the second half beginning, Didier Drogba hit Schalke with the classic sucker punch and put Chelsea two ahead.
The German side are renowned as the Bundesliga's nearly men and they nearly put up a decent fight last night. Carlos Grossmuller had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, Soren Larsen headed against the post and the striker should have had a penalty when Alex da Costa pulled him down in the 85th minute. Even so Schalke, who lost striker Kevin Kuranyi minutes before kick-off, were strangely insipid.
The linchpin for Chelsea once again was Drogba who was given no stick whatsoever from the Stamford Bridge faithful for his declaration last week that he wanted to leave the club – and his subsequent bizarre retraction. Doubtless because anyone who knows Chelsea know they would be half the team without their main man – they would sooner give away every other striker on the books than him.
"Didier is a positive guy, he speaks on the pitch and that is where he needs to do his talking," Grant said. Four wins on the spin for the new manager before the visit of Manchester City on Saturday but Grant would be naive to think that would be enough to earn him the plaudits. The mantra of entertaining football will follow him all season.
Malouda scored when he took on a flick from Drogba on the left, went outside Gerald Asamoah, cut back inside and drilled a low harmless shot straight at Neuer and through the German's legs. The Schalke goalkeeper made a similarly disastrous mistake against Hansa Rostock in the Bundesliga at the weekend and ominously vowed after that match to make up for it. Paul Robinson can rest easy that there are some having a far worse time of it than him.
The killer blow from Chelsea took another 45 minutes to arrive. As usual, the likes of Claude Makelele and Ricardo Carvalho were exemplary but it was ever thus. The spark was still missing from Malouda and Joe Cole. Two minutes after the break Schalke allowed themselves to be easily opened up. For once, Chelsea got the ball moving quickly on the counter-attack, Frank Lampard switched the ball out right to Paulo Ferreira and the full-back whipped in a cross that Drogba dived to meet at the near post.
It was a brilliant finish and Drogba's fourth goal of the season. The Swedish referee should have given a penalty against Alex for his foul on Larsen, but equally Drogba should have had one a few minutes later when he was brought down by Jermaine Jones. On the Chelsea bench for the first time was Henk ten Cate, the new assistant to Grant, who, it was pointed out in the programme, coached an Ajax team that scored more than 100 goals in 41 games last season.
Those are the kind of numbers that Abramovich hopes Chelsea are posting by the time he turns 42. It is becoming an obsession at the club and it will not be any easier to achieve if Drogba does decide that his future lies elsewhere.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Alex, Bridge; Makelele; J Cole (Shevchenko, 89), Essien (Mikel, 68) Lampard, Malouda (Kalou, 83); Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Pizarro, Ben Haim, Belletti.
Schalke 04 (4-3-3): Neuer; Rafinha, Westermann, Bordon, Rodriguez (Bajramovic, 82); Ernst, Grossmuller (Azaouagh, 77), Jones; Asamoah (Rakitic, 61), Larsen, Lovenkrands. Substitutes not used: Schober (gk), Howedes.
Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).
Results: Chelsea 1 Rosenborg 1; Schalke 04 0 Valencia 1; Rosenborg 0 Schalke 04 2; Valencia 1 Chelsea 2; Chelsea 2 Schalke 04 0; Rosenborg 2 Valencia 0.
Remaining fixtures: 6 November: Schalke 04 v Chelsea; Valencia v Rosenborg. 28 November: Rosenborg v Chelsea; Valencia v Schalke 04. 11 December: Chelsea v Valencia; Schalke 04 v Rosenborg.Reuse content