Zhirkov banishes the Luzhniki demons as Chelsea close on last 16

Spartak Moscow 0 Chelsea 2

Chelsea brushed aside Spartak Moscow last night, two first-half goals ensuring the Londoners emerged victorious from their most daunting group fixture and perhaps exorcising some of the ghosts of the Luzhniki Stadium – the site of their defeat in the Champions League final two years ago.

The day before the match, Chelsea wheeled out Russian Yuri Zhirkov instead of their captain, John Terry, to sit alongside manager Carlo Ancelotti at their press conference. The message was that the club wanted to focus on Zhirkov's return to Moscow – he spent five years at Spartak's bitter rivals CSKA – and not Terry's return to the scene of his heartbreaking penalty miss.        

And so it proved. The Russian scored his first Chelsea goal in spectacular fashion. Exactly halfway through the first half, a long ball hit from the back by John Obi Mikel could only be headed down by Nicolas Pareja in the Spartak defence. As the ball bounced, Zhirkov came charging in and, without breaking his run, hit a spectacular volley from just outside the area that flew past goalkeeper Andriy Dykan.

The goal came slightly against the run of play after Spartak enjoyed the better of the early exchanges. Dmitry Kombarov, inexplicably wearing the No 99 shirt, shot over the bar when he should have hit the target, and the tricky Brazilian forward Welliton drew a save from Petr Cech's outstretched boot after a smart swivel on the edge of the six-yard box.

But once Zhirkov had put the Blues in front, they never looked like giving up their lead, even if Cech remained the busier of the two keepers. Nicolas Anelka, who missed a penalty against Manchester United in the Moscow shoot-out two years ago, took a heavy touch when put through on goal, allowing Dykan to smother at his feet; on regaining the ball, he squared to a Spartak player when it would have been easier to pick out the oncoming Michael Essien or Florent Malouda.

Anelka atoned for the wastefulness two minutes before half-time, when he picked up the ball on the edge of the box after a powerful run through midfield from Essien. Again, it looked like he might have taken it too far, but he recovered his composure to turn the last defender and slot a low shot across Dykan into the corner of the goal.

It was an impressive 45 minutes, played as the mercury plummeted towards zero, on the Luzhniki's plastic pitch. A more creative set of fans might perhaps have come up with derogatory chants about Chelsea's Russian owner. But with the two ends of the stadium taking turns to belt out "Come on, Spartak" with the force and discipline of a Leni Riefenstahl film, the atmosphere was intimidating enough – until they were quietened by Zhirkov's volley.

The visitors also made light of the idea that Spartak would have an advantage as they were used to playing on their artificial pitch. Indeed, the only player who slipped in the first half was the Russians' front man, Welliton.

"They didn't have a problem," Ancelotti said of the playing surface after the game. "We didn't know the pitch and I think that after the game we can say that the pitch was very good to play football."

The Muscovites came out for the second half revived, and had three decent chances within the first five minutes, the best of which was a powerful shot from the edge of the area by Aiden McGeady, tipped over the bar by Cech. Later, Ibson produced another rocket from just outside the box, which was again parried bar by the Chelsea keeper; from the resultant corner, Ibson tried the same again, with the same result.

Irish international McGeady, signed from Celtic for £9.5m over the summer, was Spartak's best player, at the heart of every attack, but the Russians couldnot find a breakthrough, and by the 70-minute mark the game had largely fizzled out. Chelsea are now virtually assured of qualification, while Spartak know that if they beat Marseilles at home they should take second spot in the group, even if they lose at Stamford Bridge a fortnight from now.

"I don't think that the players thought about the last defeat here, they were focused on this game," Ancelotti said.

But nevertheless, it will be good for Chelsea to have avoided further pain at the ground where they failed at the last hurdle – on the home soil of own Roman Abramovich, no less – two years ago. Terry himself had a solid game at the heart of Chelsea's defence. With qualification for the knockout stages a virtual formality, Chelsea will be hoping they can finally win the prize Abramovich has craved since he started ploughing his millions into the club at a no less fitting venue – Wembley – next May.

Match facts

Spartak Moscow 4-4-1-1: Dikan; Parshivlyuk, Pareja, Suchy, Makeeva; McGeady, Ibson, Sheshukov, Kombarov; Ari (Ananidze, 85); Welliton. Substitutes not used Pesyakov (gk), Maidana, Stranzl, Sabitov, Ivanov, Kozlov.

Chelsea 4-4-2: Cech; Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole (Van Aanholt, 87); Essien, Obi, Zhirkov, Kalou (McEachran, 74); Anelka, Malouda (Kakuta, 82). Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Bruma, Clifford, Mellis.

Booked: Spartak Moscow Suchy; Chelsea Zhirkov

Referee C Carballo (Spain). Att 75,000

Man of the match Cech

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York