Ranieri's massed defence keeps Chelsea in the race

Chelsea 0 VfB Stuttgart 0 <i>Chelsea win 1-0 on agg</i>
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The Independent Online

Claudio Ranieri knows just how precarious his tenure at Chelsea is and last night edged his team into the last eight of the Champions' League with a determined caution which bordered on the paranoid.

Claudio Ranieri knows just how precarious his tenure at Chelsea is and last night edged his team into the last eight of the Champions' League with a determined caution which bordered on the paranoid.

If his players had defended any deeper they would have been in the King's Road, never mind their own penalty area. But they did enough. If the head coach is for the push there's no point in jumping but his grip on this tie was loosened alarmingly on occasions.

It was Chelsea's fifth consecutive clean sheet ­ one short of the competition record ­ and meant that the fortuitous own goal in the first leg saw them through. They rarely looked like adding to it although, last season, Milan showed that scoring goals was incidental to winning. All the same Stuttgart, a young side lying third in the Bundesliga, are very unlucky.

Their coach, Felix Magath, was right to claim that there was little between them. A flurry of late chances didn't mask Chelsea's deficiencies. Ranieri packed his midfield ­ deploying a lone striker for the first time since August ­ although he later argued this was meant to provide three attackers, not one. "It didn't work," he admitted. It meant a European debut for Scott Parker ­ a further descent from the firmament for Joe Cole ­ and, more importantly, Damien Duff's first start this year after injuries.

The strategy was partly to combat the danger Stuttgart posed down the flanks. With the Germans in deficit, it also invited them on. Possession was ceded although Ranieri claimed that was not the intent. Maybe it was nerves, he said.

An early goal would have steadied them but despite a drive from Duff and a header by Hernan Crespo, it never looked likely. The pace was frantic. Chelsea ferried the ball across the midfield only to be hunted down. Stuttgart suffered the same. Chelsea never having lost to German opposition at home and Stuttgart without reward on their previous four visits to England were, however,evenly matched.

A poor header by William Gallas fell to Kevin Kuranyi whose dipping shot had direction but not power. At the other end, Duff slipped around Timo Hildebrand, only to plant the ball into his arms. Ranieri made another change, although this time it was enforced after Glen Johnson, who had constructed the goal in Stuttgart, turned his left ankle and was replaced by Marcel Desailly.

The defender had warned of Alexander Hleb and his elusiveness was a threat. The Belorussian fed substitute Imre Szabics and his low shot was turned away by Carlo Cudicini.

At no time could Chelsea claim control although Ranieri was right when he said Stuttgart were, largely, limited to strikes from distance. If anything their desire was their weakness. Shots were over-ambitious and snatched. But that wasn't true of Philipp Lahm 36 seconds after the re-start. The Stuttgart winger slalomed inside two challenges and, from just eight yards, screwed his shot wide.

He should have scored, as should have Hleb moments later, but it shredded Chelsea nerves more and their defensive line deepened. Conversely, Duff was pushed further forward only to be starved of the ball.

The vim was still with the visitors and from a corner Boris Zivkovic was left unmarked. But he had too long and directed his header straight at Cudicini while a shot from substitute Christian Tiffert skimmed the side-netting.

It was close as was a header from another replacement, Chelsea's Adrian Mutu, which was brilliantly pushed out by the goalkeeper while Jesper Gronkjaer thudded a shot against a post. But it stayed goalless. "We didn't play well but we go into the quarter-finals. That is important," Ranieri said.

As he spoke, at the back of the room, were the new chairman Bruce Buck and director Richard Creitzman. They may have been there out of curiosity. But, for the record, they clapped as Ranieri stood to leave.

Chelsea (4-5-1): Cudicini; Johnson (Desailly, 30), Gallas, Terry, Bridge; Gronkjaer, Parker (Geremi, 60), Makelele, Lampard, Duff (Mutu, 82); Crespo. Substitutes not used: Ambrosio (gk), Cole, Gudjohnsen, Huth.

VfB Stuttgart (4-4-2): Hildebrand; Hinkel Gomez, 81), Meira, Bordon, Zivkovic; Hleb, Meissner (Tiffert, 62), Soldo, Cacau (Szabics, 40); Lahm, Kuranyi. Substitutes not used: Heinen (gk), Vranjes, Gerber, Heldt.

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark).

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