Steven Beacom: Drogba rolls back years to keep Villas-Boas at Chelsea
Andre Villas-Boas can breathe easy. His job is safe — for now — after Didier Drogba inspired Chelsea to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The real Chelsea stood up last night. The imposter of a defensively disorganised side appearing to lack togetherness was nowhere to be seen.
There has been much talk of a new Chelsea under Villas-Boas, but this comprehensive 3-0 victory over Valencia at Stamford Bridge brought back memories of the old Chelsea, as they produced a display full of intensity and power.
And in Drogba they had a fired-up striker who created fear amongst the opposition defenders just about every time he touched the ball.
He struck once in each half, either side of a goal from Ramires, to send the Blues on their way to the last 16 of the competition owner Roman Abramovich is desperate to win.
Beating Valencia was the prime objective to ensure they wouldn't be playing Europa League football later in the season, but with Bayer Leverkusen only drawing in Genk, it turned out to be a perfect night for the west London club as they topped their group.
That means they'll avoid the might of holders Barcelona and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid in the next round. No wonder Villa-Boas was grinning from ear to ear at the final whistle. He arrived from Porto in the summer with great confidence but with recent defeats and inept displays the swagger had gone.
It returned last night when the pressure was immense, with the Blues boss facing a make or break test just a few months into his reign.
He passed with flying colours. So too his players as they swept the La Liga outfit aside with a sense of control that has been lacking against top class opposition all season.
After looking as if he was on the ropes, AVB can now work from a position of strength, until the next Chelsea crisis comes along, that is. He shouldn't get too comfortable as they never seem that far away.
For instance the Frank Lampard issue — the England midfielder didn't make the starting line-up — is sure to come to the boil soon.
It was a massive call leaving 33-year-old Lampard on the bench last night. Previous Chelsea bosses, including Mourinho, would have seen this as a game made for Lampard's ability to score from midfield. Not Villa-Boas.
It proved to be the correct call because Chelsea's midfield trio of Raul Meireles, Ramires and youngster Oriol Romeu all performed exceptionally well.
It wasn't just the team selection that worked. The manager's tactics were spot on too, with the Blues back line sitting deeper than had been the case when Arsenal and Liverpool ripped them to shreds.
There was a much more solid look about Chelsea. John Terry was his old assured self and even David Luiz looked like a proper defender.
That provided a firm foundation at the back and the flourish in attack came from dynamic Drogba, reminding everyone that he remains a serious attacking threat.
With tension in the air Chelsea needed a bright start and they got it on three minutes courtesy of Drogba, who with a left foot drive finished off a sweeping move that involved Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata, in lively form against his old club. Stamford Bridge, quieter than a mouse in slippers at times in the current campaign, was rocking.
The volume increased when Ramires took advantage of poor defending on 22 minutes to slide home after Drogba's rampaging run. Game over.
Valencia forced Petr Cech into a couple of fine second half stops, but they lacked a killer instinct in front of goal.
Drogba showed them how to do it on 76 minutes collecting Mata’s pass before slotting home in style, helping Chelsea join Arsenal in the last 16.
Tonight it's over to the Manchester clubs, one of which, City, play at the Bridge next Monday. If Villas-Boas sets his team up in the same solid way as last night as opposed to a more cavalier approach, Chelsea have a chance of inflicting a first Premier League defeat on Roberto Mancini's side. For now though the Blues can celebrate a place amongst European football's elite.