Chelsea tame Lazio to appease banished Vialli

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Gianluca Vialli's contention that his team find it easier playing in the Champions' League than the Premiership was borne out again on a chilly evening in Rome, as Chelsea added an invaluable away point against the Group D favourites to their comprehensive victory over Feyenoord. Vialli, however, was not around to see the final 35 minutes, having been banished from the touchline for allegedly swearing at a referee's assistant.

Gianluca Vialli's contention that his team find it easier playing in the Champions' League than the Premiership was borne out again on a chilly evening in Rome, as Chelsea added an invaluable away point against the Group D favourites to their comprehensive victory over Feyenoord. Vialli, however, was not around to see the final 35 minutes, having been banished from the touchline for allegedly swearing at a referee's assistant.

Chelsea showed greater discipline than their manager and in frustrating his disappointing fellow countrymen remained above them at the top of the table, at least until the next round of matches in February.

For once Chelsea's line-up was exactly as expected with Marcel Desailly, who had been hauled off after Saturday's embarrassing first half at Sunderland, Frank Leboeuf, Albert Ferrer and Dan Petrescu all in the starting 11.

Given the depth of talent at his disposal, Sven-Goran Eriksson's Lazio selections tend to be harder to predict. Rumours in the local media that he would start without the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas proved to be correct, Simone Inzaghi partnering Roberto Mancini, for eight years Vialli's fellow gunslinger at Sampdoria. Attilio Lombardo, another old boy of the Genovese club and briefly - and bizarrely - player-manager at Crystal Palace, was an unexpected choice in midfield alongside the Argentinian pair Sebastian Veron and Diego Simeone. The two influential Yugoslavs, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Dejan Stankovic, were both suspended.

Those bans and a couple of injuries should have worked in Chelsea's favour and they held their own in a first half of few clear-cut openings. Smoke from the giant sparklers of the home supporters was still thick in the air when Chelsea conceded three successive corners. Tore Andre Flo backheaded the second of them dangerously across his own goal and another one allowed the Czech Pavel Nedved a shot that buzzed uncomfortably close. After Saturday, the Londoners seemed happy to settle for containment in the first quarter of an hour and by the time that became half an hour they had occasionally moved forward more aggressively.

In the 16th minute, their first coherent move saw Gustavo Poyet feed Dan Petrescu for a cross that Flo headed at goal, only to be penalised for pushing. A header over the bar by Desailly following Dennis Wise's corner shortly afterwards promised a more sustained offensive that was halted by Mancini bursting into the penalty area before overrunning the ball.

Flo, juggling Leboeuf's forward pass adroitly and then almost reaching Petrescu's chip, altered the balance again but the best chance before the interval fell to Inzaghi. Leboeuf and Desailly, tending to lie very deep, lost a marginal offside decision as Veron headed the ball beyond them for Inzaghi, who was clear but allowed Ed De Goey to save at his near post.

Official half-time statistics showing five Lazio shots to Chelsea's three and 54 per cent of possession to the home side were a fair reflection of the play but were not figures to discourage Chelsea. Eriksson was evidently dissatisfied with the use to which his team had put their advantage and replaced Inzaghi for the second half with Salas, forfeiting extra height in the hope of greater penetration.

Vialli's influence on the proceedings diminished 10 minutes after the interval, when he was sent from the dug-out by the German referee, Helmut Krug. Chelsea's manager had been incensed by Couto's gamesmanship in falling down clutching his face after a minor brush with Flo. Vialli ran along the touchline to complain vigorously to a linesman and was duly reported by the fourth official. Vialli watched the rest of the game on a television monitor as Ray Wilkins exhorted the troops from the touchline - the other coach, Graham Rix, was unable to travel, having not received his passport back following his recent spell in prison.

To their mutual delight Chelsea held firm and, after Lombardo had glanced a corner against the outside of a post, were as close as the home side to a goal. In the 73rd minute the right-back Guerino Gottardi only just managed to touch away Gianfranco Zola's curling chip at the far post as Célestine Babayaro bore down on him.

Lazio (4-4-2) Marchegiani; Gottardi, Nesta, Couto, Favalli; Lombardo (Boksic, 68), Veron, Simeone, Nedved; Mancini, Inzaghi (Salas, h-t). Substitutes not used: Marcolin, Sensini, Conceicão, Pinzi Ballotta (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro; Petrescu, Deschamps, Wise, Poyet; Flo, Zola. Substitutes not used: Hogh, Sutton, Goldbaek, Di Matteo, Morris, Lambourde, Cudicini (gk).

Referee: H Krug (Germany).

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