Chelsea FC's €105m summer spending started to pay off tonight as they secured a two-goal away victory against Slovakian title-holders MŠK Žilina to move to the verge of a return to the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Ironically, the goals came from an established Chelsea forward, Eidur Gudjohnsen, and an own goal, but the performance of Damien Duff in particular showed that the Londoners' new players, five of whom were deployed from the start, should prove a force to be reckoned with.
The home side were not overwhelmed in the first half-hour, although Frank Lampard went close for the visitors on nine minutes. Gradually though, Chelsea - inspired by Duff - began to take control and Lampard worried Žilina with a 32nd-minute lob.
Two minutes before half-time came Chelsea's breakthrough as Duff's far-post cross was turned in by Gudjohnsen. Žilina had a chance of their own seven minutes into the second period when Richard Varadin headed just over from Miroslav Barcik's cross, but Chelsea were still in command.
Cole creates second
Joe Cole, the only one of the six eligible summer signings not to start the game, was brought on with 21 minutes left, and soon set up Chelsea's second goal a quarter-hour from the end. The former West Ham United FC midfield player back-heeled the ball into the path of Gudjohnsen and Žilina substitute Michal Drahno intercepted, only to send the ball looping into his own net, giving Chelsea a clear advantage for their home leg in a fortnight's time.
After the game, Žilina coach Milan Lesický said: "
I do not like to lose, but it was an unequal fight. We cannot be compared with Chelsea in terms of player quality. The English team were better in all ways, so it was no surprise."
'Duff was the best'
Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri singled out his new players for praise. "Wayne Bridge and Glen Johnson helped to keep the team compact and also pushed forward well," he said. "Geremi gave us good balance in central midfield and [Juan Sebastián] Verón brought a lot of quality to the team. However,
I think Damien Duff and Joe Cole played extremely well. Duff was the best."