Sofia, so good. Almost exactly a year after taking over the manager's chair at Chelsea and seeing his new team stumble to a 2-0 defeat by little St Gallen that meant elimination in the Uefa Cup first round, Claudio Ranieri last night presided over a far more satisfactory night's work.
Eidur Gudjohnsen, given his first start of the season, responded with a goal in each half, and in stoppage time Frank Lampard scored for the first time since leaving West Ham, all of which should prove more than enough to see the London side through in Bulgaria next week.
Having taken almost 45 minutes to break Levski down, they improved significantly in the second half, after Ranieri had characteristically changed tack and tactics. Graeme Le Saux, captain for the night in Marcel Desailly's absence, was pushed forward into midfield and the lively Boudewijn Zenden switched inside, creating the last two goals. "It was a difficult game, because we're not used to playing against a team who play man-to-man, but we moved the ball quickly and played very well," Ranieri said.
Levski, traditionally the second club of Bulgaria behind the army team CSKA, are veterans of more than a hundred European matches, but less than attractive opposition, which helped explain an attendance of 20,812. The supporters who bothered to turn out saw a Chelsea team without Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, suspended from both legs. Having been unable to break up Hasselbaink's partnership with Gianfranco Zola, Gudjohnsen could do with his team-mate receiving a long ban, but Ranieri appreciates the Icelander's qualities and his scoring record, which now reads as 12 goals in 19 starts.
Gudjohnsen had few opportunities to make the mark he craved until the last minute of an otherwise dull first half. He then collected a throw-in from Le Saux on the left, skipped and jinked through three defenders, and chipped calmly over Georg Petrov as the goalkeeper committed himself. That enlivened Chelsea, who had lost Emmanuel Petit within half an hour, suffering from a chest infection which would not have been improved by the driving rain.
Levski, missing their leading striker Georgi Ivanov, gave Ed de Goey little to do until the 43rd minute, when he punched Konstantin Golovskoy's fierce shot to safety. The visitors made two substitutions early in the second half without becoming noticeably more threatening. Chelsea, as is Ranieri's wont, changed formation in mid-stream, and felt the benefit: Zenden twice curled shots close to the frame of Petrov's goal, then had a header pushed away, and Le Saux deserved better than to have one of his excellent crosses glanced wide by Zola.
The crowd, meanwhile, grew irritated by some of the Bulgarians' antics, the defender Georgi Markov rolling around on one occasion as if struck down by a poisoned umbrella. Their mood improved in the 74th minute when Gudjohnsen headed in Zenden's corner to give the score a very different feel.
Levski belatedly sought an away goal to change the outlook again, but Rogerio Botelho shot wastefully across goal. In the last minute Zenden set up Lampard to score what should prove a decisive third goal.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Melchiot, Terry, Gallas, Le Saux; Zenden, Jokanovic, Petit (Morris, 29) Lampard; Zola, Gudjohnsen. Substitutes not used: Bosnich (gk), Ferrer, Di Cesare, Dalla Bona, Aleksidze, Knight.
Levski Sofia (3-5-2): Petkov; Topuzakov, Stoilov, Markov; Stankov, B Ivanov, Golovskoy (Telkiyski, 53), Genchev, Stoyanov (Angelov, 80); Botelho, Chilkov (Pantelic h-t). Substitutes not used: Ivankov (gk), Trenchev, Dragic, Tzvetino.
Referee: H Fleischer (Germany).Reuse content