Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ancelotti confident of progress

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Chelsea's Alex (right) and John Obi Mikel (center) challenge Olympique Marseille's Brandao during Champions League Group F match at Stamford Bridge in London on Tuesday. Chelsea won the encounter 2-0.

Two games against Russia side Spartak Moscow key to first-place hopes, Chelsea coach says

LONDON - Carlo Ancelotti expects Chelsea to take advantage of its strong start in the Champions League by booking its place in the knockout stages ahead of schedule.

Ancelotti's side is top of Group F ahead of Spartak Moscow on goal difference after taking the maximum six points from its first two matches.

Chelsea gave the kind of typically efficient display that has become its trademark to defeat Marseille 2-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to John Terry's early goal and a Nicolas Anelka penalty.

While the English champion rarely hit top gear, there was never any doubt it would have enough power and cunning to subdue Marseille despite recent wobbles. Now Blues boss Ancelotti believes Chelsea can effectively seal a spot in the last 16 by taking four points from its next two fixtures, both against Russian club Spartak Moscow on Oct 19 and Nov 3.

"I think we are in a good position to qualify. It is a good start, but we still have to play four matches," Ancelotti said. "The next two games against Spartak Moscow will be very important. I think we have a good possibility to finish in first place."

After losing in the Premier League for the first time this season at Manchester City on Saturday, Chelsea desperately needed this morale-boosting result.

The key to Chelsea's return to form was the dynamic play of French duo Anelka and Florent Malouda, who tormented their compatriots with fluid movement and some sublime combinations. Perhaps given some extra motivation by the taunts of Marseille's vociferous band of traveling supporters, it was unstoppable for much of the match.

Malouda won the corner that led to Chelsea's seventh minute opener, flicked home by Terry from Gael Kakuta's corner.

Then Anelka calmly stroked home the 28th minute penalty that put the result almost beyond doubt after Stephane Mbia handled Michael Essien's cross.

Anelka is something of a controversial figure in France at present after he was sent home from the World Cup following his dressing room row with then-national team coach Raymond Domenech, but Ancelotti had no doubts the striker would rise to the challenge of taking on a team from his homeland.

"I have never seen Anelka afraid or scared or nervous. He is always quiet and calm. He has a good character," Ancelotti added.

Anelka's display ensured the suspended Didier Drogba wasn't missed, while French teenager Kakuta also gave an encouraging performance on his European debut.

"Kakuta was good. He was involved in the game and played for the team," Ancelotti said. "This is the most important thing because sometimes a player wants to show his quality too much. I have to congratulate him on his performance."

While Chelsea can look forward to another long run in Europe's elite club competition, Marseille is in danger of crashing out at the first hurdle.

The French champion has lost its first two matches, and former Chelsea midfielder Deschamps admits it must win twice against Zilina to keep its hopes alive.

"We have got two games against Zilina coming up. We need to get six points there and see what Chelsea do in their doubleheader against Spartak Moscow," Deschamps said.

Deschamps was scathing about his team's display on his return to the club he played for in the 1999-2000 season, and he conceded the defeat could have been worse but for two shots from Alex and Michael Essien hitting the woodwork.

"We were dominated both technically and physically. There was a huge difference between the two sides," he said.


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