Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, unless it happens to be the pitiful Olympiakos, who gave Chelsea a bona fide free ride into the Champions League quarter-finals last night. Avram Grant's team are now 60 games undefeated at home in all competitions over two years and few came easier than this stroll at Stamford Bridge.
It is not Chelsea's fault that this victory was not the epoch-making triumph achieved by Arsenal at San Siro on Tuesday night, for that blame the Greeks. For a club who have won the title in their domestic league for 10 out of the last 11 seasons Olympiakos were so dreadful it was tempting to think that the Chelsea players faced stiffer opposition on that recent paintballing trip in the Surrey countryside to rebuild team morale.
Ahead in six minutes through Michael Ballack's goal, the only surprise was that Chelsea did not score more than the two further goals added by Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou. Apart from their finishing, this was Chelsea at their ruthless, remorseless best – from Ballack's opener to the very last moments when the Spanish referee called time as they prepared to take their last corner of the match.
Chelsea's victory means that there are three English teams through to the Champions League quarter-finals, and just Liverpool left to make it into the draw for the quarter-finals on 14 March. This week will be remembered for Arsenal's humbling of Milan, not Chelsea's destruction of Olympiakos, but it was ever thus for poor old Grant. It will take a performance like this against one of the big boys of European football to convince everyone that he truly is the real deal.
An indicator of just how comfortable Chelsea had it last night was that Claude Makelele had two shots on goal – probably equalling his season's average in one match – and he even nearly scored from one. Carlo Cudicini, in for the injured Petr Cech, made his first save some time around the hour and his main preoccupation for most of the match, until a late Olympiakos rally, was keeping himself warm.
If there was a frustrating element for Chelsea it was that they incurred some needless bookings – to John Terry, Lampard and Paulo Ferreira – which may come back to haunt them later in the competition. But this was a night to admire the power and control of the great blue machine, and by the end even Olympiakos' boisterous support appeared to have reconciled themselves to the inevitable.
Another big game, another big-name midfielder left out of the team by Grant. In the first leg against Olympiakos it was Lampard; in the Carling Cup final it was Ballack; and last night it was the turn of Michael Essien to sit on the bench. It is a sign of just how difficult Grant is finding juggling the big names that it was Ballack who originally believed he was not in the team – only for Essien to find himself left out in the cold.
All that politics around the team selection was rendered irrelevant when, with six minutes gone, Chelsea took the lead through Ballack. For all their impact in the opening stages, the Olympiakos team might as well have booked themselves in for the stadium tour rather than lined up on the pitch. They seemed to approach the occasion like the first day at a daunting new school and no team fit the role of bullies better than Chelsea.
There was an uninspiring 4-5-1 formation from the visitors from Piraeus with, on his own in attack, Darko Kovacevic – a big lump of a centre-forward, the like of which Terry will happily keep in his pocket all night. In the fifth minute, Ashley Cole took a quick throw to Lampard on the left wing, the midfielder hit a curling cross to the near post and Ballack was on hand to head the ball past goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis.
It was tempting to say that was the game over there and, although Olympiakos picked themselves up briefly after Chelsea's second goal, any faint self-belief they may have had appeared to expire in those early stages. Joe Cole had already made an excellent chance for Didier Drogba, which he volleyed over, when Chelsea scored their second goal on 25 minutes.
Claude Makelele's header found Joe Cole on the right who in turn headed it first time into the path of Ballack. His shot was stopped at the near post by Nikopolidis who, nonetheless, could not hold it. Cue Lampard to roll in his 103rd career goal for Chelsea from one yard out. From then, the unbeaten home record that stretches back to that 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League in February 2006 never looked in doubt.
With Kalou on the left, Joe Cole on the right and Lampard and Ballack bossing the centre of midfield this was an intimidating demonstration of Chelsea's power – to which the Greek side singularly failed to respond. The overall possession count was 57 per cent in Chelsea's favour which, in Champions League terms, is the football equivalent of a military occupation. Having listened to what was presumably a less than inspiring team talk from their harassed-looking manager Panagiotis Lemonis, Olympiakos came out for the second half and promptly conceded a third goal.
A kind description of Kalou's goal would have been that it came from a goalmouth scramble – but, when it comes to the Olympiakos defence, the description goalmouth shambles works just as well. Lampard's corner from the left wing was headed on limply by Drogba and Kalou was allowed two touches one yard out from goal to put the ball into the net.
Joe Cole and Makelele both had good chances to score in the later stages until Olympiakos put together some token resistance towards the end of the game. The substitute Fernando Belluschi struck the bar with a shot and Cudicini was obliged to make another good stop moments later.
Lampard was booked for diving which, in the circumstances, looked harsh. Florent Malouda and Shaun Wright-Phillips were brought on and many of those who played last night can probably expect to be rested for Saturday's trip to Barnsley in the FA Cup. It would be hard to bet against Chelsea coming through that game still alive in three competitions this season. Compared to the resistance that they encountered last night, the visit to Oakwell looks like a tricky encounter.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cudicini; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Makelele; J Cole (Wright-Phillips, 79), Ballack, Lampard (Essien, 76), Kalou (Malouda, 70); Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Alex, Belletti, Anelka.
Olympiakos (4-5-1): Nikopolidis; Zewlakow, Antzas, J Cesar, Pantos; Torosidis (Sisic, 75), Patsatzoglou, Ledesma (Belluschi, 53), Stoltidis, Djordjevic (Leonardo, 57); Kovacevic. Substitutes not used: Sifakis (gk), Nunez, Mendrinos, Konstantinou.
Referee: M Gonzalez (Spain).
Barcelona, Man Utd, Fenerbahce, Arsenal, Chelsea, Schalke, Roma, Liverpool/ Internazionale
The draw for the last eight (1/2 and 8/9 April) and semi-finals is on Friday 14 March. Teams from the same country can be drawn together.Reuse content