Anderlecht 0 Chelsea 2

Crespo's class tells as Chelsea cruise into knock-out stages
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The Independent Online

It isn't over until the fat lady sings, or so the saying goes. But she was warming up her tonsils on a bitter night in Brussels from the moment Hernan Crespo tapped the ball off the centre-spot to start proceedings. Never mind the opera, this was barely a drama, as one-sided a mismatch as the Champions' League gets, and it allowed Chelsea to record their first away win in seven matches in Europe.

A bizarre record indeed for such a formidable, and formidably resourced, opponent, and one stretching back to November last year, but by ending it - and with Real Betis failing to beat Liverpool - Chelsea qualified from Group G for the knock-out stages of this competition without having remotely to extend themselves.

Not that the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, cares whether his side or Liverpool top the group. "I think it is not important at all," he said, reasoning that facing Bayern Munich or Barcelona in the next round was much of a muchness. "But it would have been funny if Betis had won," he said. "Imagine Chelsea versus Liverpool. Ten points each and the loser is out of the competition. It would have been a fantastic night."

Some sense of humour that - and there was also a little dig at Rafael Benitez, saying he hoped he would come to entertain at Stamford Bridge next month. Mourinho also opened his comments with a swipe at having been criticised for his pre-match remark that all Chelsea needed to do was win. "First of all," he said, "I'm very good at maths because I told you three points was enough."

He was, again, right. Mourinho also got his permutations correct in playing Crespo ahead of Didier Drogba, and he was rewarded with a performance of class from the Argentinian, who is shifting into form, and into the limelight, just as Chelsea need him.

Crespo looked every bit the top international striker that he undoubtedly is and his employers would do well to smooth whatever unrest there remains in his heart over staying in London.

Crespo's name rang long into the night from the travelling Chelsea fans, whose team killed the game with two early goals in a first half that their manager described as "beautiful". That beauty was not maintained after the break although the firm grip established by the relentless power of Michael Essien was never loosened.

But Chelsea eased ahead through a goal created solely by Frank Lampard, who sent in what Mourinho described as an "unbelievable" cross for Crespo to leap and volley in. That came soon after Anderlecht should have scored when, with the disappointing Asier del Horno out of position, a quick throw-in released Christian Wilhelmsson, who pulled the ball back only for Mbo Mpenza to steer wide.

Soon the home side were further behind and again Crespo was involved. Lampard's corner was flicked on by the striker and Ricardo Carvalho half-volleyed into the roof of the net. Game over and with that Anderlecht were consigned to a record 12th consecutive Champions' League defeat.

Their only hope was the energy of Wilhelmsson but, in truth, and until Bart Goor made a hash of a cross late on, they were completely colourless and departed at both the half and full-time whistles to derision from their otherwise mute fans.

Perhaps because of the ease of it all, Chelsea dipped and a third goal would not come, as Crespo - in his final act before being replaced to a rich ovation - volleyed into the side-netting. His performance confirmed again the astonishing choices Mourinho has. There is the target man bludgeon of Didier Drogba, or the appealing rapier of Crespo. Last night belonged to the latter and he slit Anderlecht's throats. The smoothest of assassins.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Gallas, Terry, Carvalho, Del Horno; Lampard, Essien, Gudjohnsen (Geremi, 78); J Cole (Diarra, 62), Crespo (C Cole, 86), Duff. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Drogba, Ferreira, Huth.

Anderlecht (4-4-2): Proto; Zewlakow, Kompany, Tihinen, Deschacht; Wilhelmsson, Vanden Borre, Vanderhaeghe (Iachtchouk, h-t), Goor; Mpenza (Zetterberg, 60), Akin (Ehret, 74). Substitutes not used: Zitka (gk), Juhasz, De Man, Mitu.

Referee: S Farina (Italy).

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