William Gallas celebrated
his first start of the season with a winning goal six
minutes from time, his first Champions League goal since
scoring for Marseille against Manchester United in 1999.
The first-half was not of the quality
that people have come to expect from Champions League
football. Chelsea settled first but didnt maintain
rhythm, and the referee was the most active participant.
Adrian Mutus towering header
after two minutes from Glen Johnsons volleyed lob-cross,
rising high above a crowded Sparta defence, was only just
wide. But at the other end big striker Gluscevic got behind
Marcel Desailly to a Poborsky free-kick which Desailly
had conceded, and headed the ball back into the area,
but Chelsea cleared. It was messy stuff.
Both sides were giving the ball away too
much, committing too many fouls and, in Chelseas
case, getting caught offside too often. Mutu forced Sparta
to give the ball away on 11 minutes, tackling back on
midfielder Kovac, and Emmanuel Petits volleyed pass
found Hernan Crespo who hit a diagonal left foot volley
which Blazek held athletically at his near post. That
got the away following singing the Argentines name.
But at the other end Carlo Cudicini had
to show good hands to hold Labants driven free-kick
as forwards ran in to put him under pressure.
By the 27th minute Chelsea had committed
ten fouls and by the 33rd been caught offside five times.
It was stop-start, stop-start. Neither side was able to
build up a period of pressure.
There were good things, flicks by Crespo,
occasional passes by Juan Sebastian Veron, but many of
the best things were skills to get out of tight corners
after under-hit passes or missed tackles.
With five minutes of the first-half left
Chelsea were just edging things again, and Verons
marvellous pass set Geremi racing up the right, but his
cross was superbly intercepted by central defender Hubschuman
as Mutu prepared to fire the trigger.
Right on half-time Kovac rose to a long
Poborsky cross and headed just wide of the near post
a long cross causing problems again. Nil-nil was a justifiable
Mutu had suffered a knock on the ankle
which hed hurt in the first-half against Spurs,
and he and Petit went off at half-time to be replaced
by Frank Lampard and Damien Duff. Duff went to the left,
Lampard to the centre, Veron pushed on and the shape became
4-4-1-1. Sparta had been playing 4-4-2 with Labant at
left-back, and now switched Poborsky to the middle and
brought striker Sionko on at right-midfield with injured
The Chelsea full-backs hadnt got
forward much in the first-half to give the team shape,
but started to more now, and Johnson found Crespo six
minutes in, but his attempted chip was easily blocked
by Blazeks hand.
At the other end another long Labant cross,
from the right following a cleared corner, presented Jun
with a free header which he badly misdirected from close
Sparta changed their left of midfield
after 56 minutes, but it was Chelseas left two minutes
later causing the danger. Duff got away from the slipping
Petras on to Wayne Bridges pass and crossed dangerously
and low, but central defender Johana intercepted superbly.
Sparta worked hard but got few people forward. Chelsea
flicked and touched, twisted and spurted, and now with
Lampard and Duff drove forward too. Yet there was never
strong superiority. And when Verons delightful pass
slipped Crespo away and the strikers chip beat Blazek
but was slackly wide the away fans started recalling Dennis
Wises San Siro goal with fervour.
Poor Crespo was wide again when he chased
another good Veron ball and fired hard with his left foot.
He was working hard and not hiding and you felt quality
would reward him in the end.
But there was to be not time and Jimmy
Floyd Hasselbaink replaced him on 71 minutes. Eight minutes
later Johana blocked crucially again, this time as Hasselbainks
left foot met Claude Makeleles crisp pass forwards.
Chelsea pushed on more and more and Sparta
were only countering, mostly defending. In the end the
long awaited goal came six minutes from time. Geremi had
got round the back of the Sparta defence and won a corner.
Duff took it and it was cleared back to him, he forced
the room to cross again, coming inside on his left, Hasselbaink
flicked it on and Gallas swept it in at the far post,
a flashing finish.
Jezek replaced Labant immediately with
Zboncak dropping to left-back. Desailly finished the game
limping after picking up an ankle injury, playing on because
Chelsea had used all our substitutes.
It wasnt a great performance, but
as the Chelsea choir sang as the teams took to the pitch:
Chelsea are back, Chelsea are back.