CHELSEA manager Carlo Ancelotti hailed Yury Zhirkov after the Russian midfielder chose the perfect setting to reignite his Blues career.
Zhirkov’s extraordinary 30-yard volley set the west Londoners on their way to an ultimately comfortable win that virtually guarantees their progress to the last 16.
Striker Nicolas Anelka slotted a second for Chelsea, who were without a host of big names but still maintained their perfect record into a third game.
“It was an important moment for Yury, coming back to play for Chelsea in Russia. He scored a fantastic goal and will be very happy,” said Ancelotti.
“He was very good. He played very well and doesn’t have a problem playing either left-back or on the left of midfield. He scored a very important goal and opened up the game. After that, it was easier for us to win the match.”
Zhirkov’s Chelsea career has stalled since his £18m transfer from Spartak’s rivals CSKA Moscow in the summer of 2009, but his first strike in a Blues shirt reminded everyone why he commanded such a high fee.
Seizing on a loose ball just outside the home side’s area, Zhirkov (left) showed athleticism and grace to evade a challenge and fire into the top-right corner in one simultaneous movement.
That 23rd-minute strike was followed just before half-time by Anelka’s composed finish, and any fears that the visitors would struggle in icy conditions and on an artificial surface evaporated.
A place in the knockout stages looks a formality after a victory earned despite the absence of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Alex and Ramires.
But Ancelotti added: “We are not in the last 16 yet. We have to play three games and must do our best in those matches. We have to stay focused about the next game. We want to finish in first place. That’s our aim.”
What looked on paper to be Chelsea’s trickiest Group F fixture was not without its difficult moments. Welliton forced a smart near-post save from Petr Cech with the scoresheet still blank, while former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady also tested the Blues goalkeeper in the second half.