Blues call on reserves to crush Atletico
Chelsea's resources were put to the test in this Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge and the final analysis will make satisfactory reading for boss Carlo Ancelotti.
The depth of Chelsea's powerful squad has long been hailed as one of their trump cards and on a night when Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa were all absent from the starting line-up, Ancelotti threw some of his lesser lights into battle.
As Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will readily testify, putting your trust in players who are more used to warming benches than taking centre stage is not always an enjoyable experience and yet Ancelotti fared a little better than the under-fire Spaniard.
A glance at the substitutes available to Ancelotti confirmed there is real quality among the top 15 stars on the books at Chelsea, with Carvalho, Joe Cole and Florent Malouda among those standing by in case of an emergency. Yet it is those who could be ranked between 15 and 20 in the pecking order who provide a less convincing underbelly, with Juliano Belletti, Branislav Ivanovic and Salomon Kalou among those with points to prove in this tie.
And some 24 hours after David Ngog fluffed his lines leading the line for Liverpool, Kalou announced himself as a striker capable of shining at Champions League level as he stepped into Drogba's shoes with a match-winning display against an increasing troubled Atletico Madrid side.
A month ago, the absence of a few key men would not have sent a shiver through Chelsea's confident veins, but the worrying nature of their last few performances have shattered the illusion that Ancelotti had applied a magical plaster to heal the problems that have affected the Blues in recent years.
Indeed, the ex-AC Milan boss only had to wait a few weeks to discover the defence he inherited has the occasional problem defending well directed free-kicks and corners, so Atletico's celebrated forward line of Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero must have fancied their chances of causing some havoc as the Spanish side looked to revive their season.
While this was to be Kalou's night, his first contribution to the game did little to suggest as much as the Ivory Coast hit-man wasted a glorious chance to open the scoring after 16 minutes, but he was to make up for that failure with the opener five minutes before the break.
A deflection on Ashley Cole's cross handed Kalou his chance to convert from close range and he duly delivered as he beat Atletico keeper Sergio Asenjo to the ball. Chelsea had their lead, but the muted atmosphere around this sell-out stadium confirmed those on hand were not being inspired by the show they were watching.
Even after Kalou added a second for Chelsea with a powerful header seven minutes into the second half, his home supporters seemed less than inspired to raise their noise levels and yet they should have been more willing to acclaim a player who had answered the questions hanging over him in the grand manner.
The clean sheet at the other end suggested defensive reserves Ivanovic and Belletti could claim to have passed their tests, but there were still a few question marks hanging over a Chelsea defence that was exposed on more than one occasion.
Indeed, Aguero should have scored when he was sent clear on goal in the second half, but he lacked conviction at the crucial moment and Terry found himself needing to cover for Ivanovic on the occasions when he was caught out of position. Meanwhile, Belletti's late booking was a needless black mark against his name.
Frank Lampard produced the biggest roar of the night as his 69th minute strike sealed a comfortable win for Chelsea, with a last minute own goal from Luis Perea sealing the deal. Unsurprisingly, boss Ancelotti was keen to heap praise on his rarely mentioned Ivory Coast hit-man.
"We wanted a reaction from the disappointments at Aston Villa and that is what we got," said the Chelsea boss. "I have to be happy with this performance and Kalou showed he can be very important for us. His big mistake early on did not upset him and that is a good quality in a player.
"Now we are top of the standings and that is all we can ask for. It was not a major concern for me as I know this is a good team and they showed this against Atletico."
Kalou admitted he was in need of a confidence boost as he spoke to the media. "I have not been in the team for a couple of games, so it was nice to come back and get some confidence with two goals," he stated. "All the boys were nice to me when I missed that first half chance and they said my moment would come. Hopefully now I have shown I can help this team if I get a opportunity."
This result did little to banish the notion that Atletico boss Abel Resino is on borrowed time and he looked somewhat bewildered in his press conference. "We had the chances to make an impact in this game, but missed them in the early moments," said Resino. "Maybe the first goal for us could have changed things. Once they had a two goal lead, our hopes were gone."
It is easy to forget that Chelsea were being hailed as the strongest side in England and Europe at this stage of last season, only for their hopes to evaporate in double quick time under Luiz Felipe Scolari's guidance. There was a fear that an alarmingly collapse may be imminent as their defence crumbled at Villa Park last weekend, but this season's Blues do not look quite so willing to stumble as the Scolari pack.
It means that those seeking a crisis can keep their eyes trained on Benitez and Liverpool.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Salomon Kalou
The fact that Kalou will be joining Drogba in African Cup of Nations action in January means the prospect of Ancelotti navigating his way through a month of this season with a solitary senior striker must still be a concern, but at least it seems this permanent substitute can do a job if and when the need arises.
SOUND TURNED OFF: The healthy band of travelling Atletico fans created most of the noise in a stadium curiously lacking any atmosphere. At one point, Blues captain John Terry could clearly be heard talking to his team-mates from our seats on the sidelines.
CHELSEA VERDICT: This comfortable win will help to stabilise Ancelotti's ship after a troubled week when his players held a heated dressing room discussion over their recent defensive failings. They looked back to their powerful best in the second half.
ATLETICO VERDICT: The word from the Spanish press contingent gathered at Stamford Bridge was that Atletico coach Resino is walking on a tightrope after a shocking start to the season. This defeat all but ends their Champions League campaign and does little to dispel the notion that Resino is out of his depth in this job.