Easy come, easy go. Chelsea's place in tomorrow's Champions League draw was still only pencilled in last night when the club spent the bulk of its probable dividend on their latest acquisition. Hernan Crespo, late of Internazionale, was unveiled during the interval of this third qualifying round. Chelsea duly went on to secure their passage to the group stages and will now seek to complete their spending by persuading Real Madrid to part with Claude Makelele before Sunday's transfer deadline.
The 11th signing of the summer, and ninth since Roman Abramovich took over, Crespo's £16.8m fee takes the club's summer expenditure to £94.6m. It is perhaps appropriate that tomorrow's draw will be in Monaco, the high-rollers' capital.
With Abramovich watching, Chelsea eased their way past the Slovakian champions without ever breaking into a trot. Bolstered by a two-goal first-leg lead they sealed the tie, and settled their nerves, when Glen Johnson scored after 32 minutes. Victory on the night was confirmed after 67 minutes by Robert Huth's towering header from Emmanuel Petit's corner. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink then added his own comment on the arrival of Crespo with his second of the season after 78 minutes, neatly tucked away after Geremi's clever chip.
This match was no guide as to how Chelsea will fare in the competition proper. Zilina, as 18,000 empty seats testified, are makeweights at this level. Chelsea will now face one of the top seeds, who include Real Madrid, Milan and Juventus, with other powerful sides lurking among the lesser seeds. As Claudio Ranieri's anxious body language indicated, better performances will be required.
It for challenges like these that Crespo has been signed. The 28-year-old, who traded clubs for a then-world record £37m only three seasons ago, scored nine goals in 12 Champions' League appearances last season. Ranieri said: "He is fast, good in the air and scores lots of goals. You can play well, but if you don't put the ball in the net it is no good and it is my neck on the block."
Ranieri initially said this would be his last signing but he added: "I leave the door open." He also hinted that at least one player, probably Boudewijn Zenden, would leave.
With a long season ahead, Ranieri gave fringe players a run and key ones a break. Five changes were thus made from the team who started against Leicester at the weekend. These included giving Joe Cole his full debut and Celestine Babayaro his first action of the season.
Not that Ranieri took risks. The spine of the team was unchanged. He knew Chelsea could not afford to presume. Two seasons ago they were beaten 2-0 at the Bridge by Hapoel Tel Aviv to go out of the second round of the Uefa Cup.
Despite the memory of that embarrassing night Chelsea began with a lack of urgency, perhaps inhibited by the low-key atmosphere. Only Cole demonstrated any drive, several heavy challenges failing to deter him from running at the Slovaks.
The slow tempo enabled the visitors to settle and their limited ambitions grew. A dangerous 15th-minute free-kick, which required a brave clearing header from Marcel Desailly, further encouraged them. Chelsea's torpor was illustrated by a 21st-minute corner from Hasselbaink which bounced across the face of the goal with neither Eidur Gudjohnsen, nor Cole sharp enough to tap it in.
Though Hasselbaink headed over, Ranieri remained the most active Chelsea participant. He was finally able to relax when Frank Lampard swung in a right-wing free-kick which skimmed off the brow of Dusan Sninsky, and over his committed goalkeeper, to Johnson. The 19-year-old headed inside the far post with a impressive aplomb given it was his first senior goal.
The spectre of an away goal briefly loomed when Branislav Labant drove just past Carlo Cudicini's far post but the shot was little more than a gesture.
The second period was a matter of playing out time, its inconsequential nature underlined by the sight of Cudicini taking a throw-in. Chelsea fans, though enjoying both the goals and thunderous strikes against the woodwork by Gudjohnsen and Huth, the latter of which actually bounced over the line, cared not.
They were already looking ahead to the group stages, their enthusiasm further whetted by the half-time appearance of Crespo, dressed in assassin's black from head to toe.
While supporters chanted the Argentine's name with ebullience a triumphalist public address gleefully announced the club's summer spending had broken all records. One wondered if, by the end of the season, Hugh Briss, late of Leeds United, would also be on the books.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini; Johnson, Terry, Desailly (Huth, 64), Babayaro; Gronkjaer (Stanic, 68), Géremi, Lampard (Petit, h-t), Cole; Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen. Substitutes not used: Ambrosio (gk), Duff, Melchiot, Forssell.
MSK Zilina (4-4-1-1): Rzeszoto; Konecny, Zabavnik, Labant, Stas; Kosmel (Klago, 90), Bazik, Sninsky, Durica (Putik, 82); Barcik; Varadin (Fabus, 71). Substitutes not used: Trabalik (gk), Strba, Cervenec, Drahno.
Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).
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