Drogba back with a bang to power Chelsea's progress

Atletico Madrid 2 Chelsea 2
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The Independent Football

Didier Drogba kept his head amid chaotic scenes here last night to single-handedly book Chelsea's place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

His last sighting in Champions League action had been his foul-mouthed rant live on TV after Chelsea were eliminated at the semi-final stage by Barcelona in May. His ban served for his moment of madness, here was the other side of the Ivorian, the striker who managed to keep his cool in the most frenetic of atmospheres.

Two goals in the last eight minutes of this gripping contest were enough for Chelsea to ensure safe passage into last 16, despite a couple of cracking strikes from Sergio Agüero, the Atletico Madrid striker whose performance will only enhance his prospects of moving to the London club.

The performance of the two very different forwards had the Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti dreaming of possibly pairing them together. "I think Agüero can play with Drogba for sure," Ancelotti said. "Is Drogba the best striker in the world? I don't know but I wouldn't want to change him for any other striker."

Chelsea were outplayed for much of the match but thanks to Drogba's irresistible form in front of goal, they stole the point they needed. Drogba, whose goals took his season's tally to 12, admitted he has never played better than his current form for Chelsea. He said: "I think so. A few years ago I was playing with the same confidence. I always score when I play injury-free. I hope it will be the same to the end of the season."

When the draw was made for the group stage this fixture looked like being Chelsea's toughest. And so it proved as the visitors spent most of the contest on the back foot. The match had been smouldering for a while when Agüero sparked it into life with a spectacular volley in he 66th minute.

Jose Antonio Reyes had gone close for Atletico, who were a totally different proposition to the side that collapsed to a 4-0 thumping at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago and Drogba had hit a post for Chelsea. But it was Agüero, the player the Premier League club baulked at signing for £43m in the summer, who provided the instinctive volley that lifted the game to a totally different level.

Antonio Lopez crossed from the left, the ball flicked off John Terry's head and Agüero dispatched a spectacular volley that flew past a motionless Petr Cech.

Deco wasted a glorious chance to equalise in the 76th minute when the Atletico goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo's punch fell at his feet, but the Portuguese midfielder shot well wide. However Drogba delivered when it was needed, getting his head to a left-wing cross from Florent Malouda to give Chelsea an equaliser with eight minutes left.

Drogba was not finished and with two minutes remaining he managed to conjure up a late strike out of nothing. Despite having worked tirelessly up front, unsupported for most of the match, he chased down a hopeful clearance that Luis Perea failed to defend and, allowed two stabs at the cherry by Asenjo, he scored to put Chelsea ahead.

The sting in the tail came from Agüero, who on this type of form looks like he might actually be worth the astronomical transfer value put on his head by the Spanish club. In stoppage time Diego Maradona's son-in-law stepped up to fire home a stunning free-kick past Cech to ensure Atletico's efforts were not in vain. The goal, however, remained largely immaterial to Chelsea as Porto's 1-0 defeat of Apoel Nicosia ensured that Ancelotti's side gained a place in next year's knockout stage.

After the breathless finish to the match, Ancelotti paid tribute to Drogba's work ethic for the team. The Chelsea manager said: "He's doing well and continuing to do well. We hope he can play other games like he did tonight. He's a striker who scored two goals, and puts in very important work. He is in a good moment. You can look always at his work, and I'm very happy for his behaviour. I hope that he can continue. At this moment, he has a good feeling with his behaviour."

Chelsea's disjointed performance could be put down to the six changes Ancelotti made from the team that had won 4-0 at Bolton on Saturday. Clearly with one eye on Sunday's vital meeting with Manchester United, Ancelotti altered the make-up of the Chelsea side so much they lost some of the rhythm that had brought them 17 goals in their previous four games.

Drogba admitted the impeding visit of the Premier League champions, and the possibility of extending their lead over them to five points, had been on the players' minds in the build up to this match. He said: "I think we were also thinking about Sunday's game. It is really important for us to beat United at home. We have to improve and show different qualities and be better than we were in Madrid. We played well but it wasn't enough to win."

At least thanks to Drogba they did enough to ensure a draw.

Atletico Madrid (4-1-3-2): Asenjo; Perea, Pablo, Juanito, Antonio Lopez; Assuncao; Reyes (Maxi Rodriguez, 73), Cleber, Simao (Jurado, 83); Sinama Pongolle (Agüero, 52), Forlan. Substitutes not used: De Gea (gk), Raul Garcia, Ujfalusi, Alvaro

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech; Belletti, Alex, Terry, A Cole, Essien (Ballack, 59); Lampard, Malouda; J Cole (Deco, 70); Kalou (Anelka, 70), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Carvalho, Sturridge.

Referee: B Kuipers (Neth).

Group D

Results so far: Chelsea 1 Porto 0, Atletico 0 Apoel 0; Apoel 0 Chelsea 1, Porto 2 Atletico 0; Chelsea 4 Atletico 0, Porto 2 Apoel 1. Atletico 2 Chelsea 2; Apoel 0 Porto 1

Chelsea's remaining fixtures: 25 Nov Porto (a), 8 Dec Apoel (h).