Enigmatic Anelka the key for Blues
FC Copenhagen captain William Kvist summed up the difference between his side and Chelsea in two words: Nicolas Anelka.
The French forward was his usual enigmatic self in the Blues' 2-0 victory. He wasn't involved in a lot but his two goals made the difference on the scoreboard and took him to the top of the Champions League goalscoring table alongside Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o.
Kvist argued that if his side had a player like Anelka that the match might have panned out differently. "That's what we needed, a match winner… we didn't have that and they had Anelka," he said.
Copenhagen had 53% possession over the 90 minutes and showed plenty of effort throughout a freezing night in the Danish capital. But the home side were unable to seriously test Chelsea in the Champions League last-16 first leg.
FC Copenhagen manager Stale Solbakken admitted his side just wasn't up to scratch and got straight to the point at his press conference after the match. "We lost to a better team," he conceded. "They were stronger than us and we made too [many] technical errors. We had our good moments but when we had our good moments we missed the last pass or didn't have the power to get through."
It was a disappointing end to a night that had promised so much. The atmosphere around Parken Stadium was festive and hopeful before the match, despite the frigid conditions. Chelsea hadn't won in their past three matches and the home supporters could sense an upset.
Costa Rican Christian Bolanos was the home side's spark for most of the match and started brightly. The stocky winger showed some clever touches and a willingness to attack, which had Blues' full-back Ashley Cole on the back foot early on. Cole struggled to contend with Bolanos, especially when he linked up with Copenhagen's right full-back Zdenek Pospech.
But for all FC Copenhagen's hard work there was a distinct lack of final product.
At the other end Chelsea cruised. The West Londoners always looked more dangerous. In the tenth minute, they fired a warning shot. Fernando Torres received the ball from Frank Lampard deep on the left side, the Spaniard's lofted cross-field pass fell beautifully for Anelka but Copenhagen's defence recovered in time to block his shot.
Anelka made no mistake seven minutes later. Former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjær passed back towards his own goal and the ball went straight to the Frenchman. The 31-year-old turned at once, sprinted towards goal and drove the ball past Copenhagen goalkeeper Johan Wiland for the opening goal of the match.
"We knew that we would need all the small margins tonight," Kvist admitted after the game. "And of course giving one goal away, in the early stages, is a crucial factor in the game."
Down by a goal at half-time, Copenhagen came out after the break at top speed and created their best chance of the match in the 51st minute. Senegalese striker Dame N'Doye dropped deep to get involved and his pass ricocheted to substitute Martin Vingaard. The 25-year-old spotted Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech off his line and, though Gronkjær was free in the penalty area, Vingaard tried to chip the Blues' No. 1. His shot flopped straight to Cech.
Two minutes later and Chelsea doubled their lead. Lampard's brilliant pass found Anelka between two Copenhagen defenders. As he ran into the box, Anelka allowed the ball to roll across his body and struck the ball past Wiland.
Copenhagen didn't give up though; the reigning Danish champions continued to control possession inside the Blues' half. In the stands, the local fans were also defiant. A stadium-wide rendition of "you only sing when you're winning" mocked a perceived lack of support from the Chelsea faithful before the second goal.
The Danish supporters were certain their efforts to inspire the players had paid off in the 68th minute. Vingaard released Gronkjær, who had moved up front after half-time, and the Danish veteran burst into the box. His run ended with what looked like a trip from a Branislav Ivanovic. The crowd screamed for a penalty but the assistant referee's flag was raised for offside and Dutch referee Bjorn Kulpers was spared a difficult decision.
Despite the home side giving supporters hope of a fight back, Chelsea still looked like they had more to give, with Kvist observing: "Yeah, I think Chelsea had maybe a gear more if they needed it".
The defeat was only Copenhagen's fourth of the season and the side that lead the Danish Superliga by 19 points have undoubtedly been affected by the league's three-month winter break, which has seemingly cost them any chance of progress in Europe. The Danish league resumes on March 5 and Tuesday's match was Copenhagen's first competitive game since their 3-1 win over Panathinaikos in the group stage on December 7.
Copenhagen played six friendlies against Scandinavian clubs to try and stay in form, but Solbakken was prepared to concede that it was a big step-up to play Chelsea. However, the Norwegian was keen to point out that the club had endeavoured to give his players better preparation.
"We really tried this year because we knew it was a big problem for us," Solbakken said. "We had close to a signed deal with Sunderland [to play a friendly] … we have tried, a lot of effort and money as well to make sure that we could do it."
Kvist agreed that almost three months without a serious game really hampered Copenhagen's chances of competing. "We'd hoped that we would be able to dance a little bit better with them tonight," he said. "But it didn't happen and of course the winter break, you could see that in our game."