Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti singled out controversial French striker Nicolas Anelka for special praise after the English side cruised to a 4-1 UEFA Champions League win over Zilina.
Anelka, who hit the headlines at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ for his spectacular fall-out with coach Raymond Domenech which led to his banishment and a players revolt, was on target twice on Wednesday. But he also played a major role in ensuring the Premier League champions enjoyed an untroubled trip to Slovakia after creating Michael Essien's early opening goal.
"The key was Anelka in this game," said Ancelotti. "He played a fantastic game, opened the space, created opportunities, scored two goals and set up Essien for the first goal. He can play in any position up front. Sometimes we use him out wide, sometimes he plays in the middle. Tonight he showed the same skills as when he plays wide."
Zilina coach Pavel Hapal also praised Anelka's contribution. "The best player for me in this game was Anelka," he said.
Essien opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a low shot after an Anelka pass from the left wing. In the 24th minute, Anelka beat Zilina keeper Martin Dubravka with a low shot across the box after Florent Malouda had chipped the ball superbly over the home defence.
Anelka silenced the home crowd four minutes later, making it 3-0 with an easy rebound after Chelsea captain John Terry had hit the crossbar with a powerful header. Malouda then almost made it 4-0 but his shot from 10 metres out, which was heading for an empty net, was deflected wide by Zilina skipper Mario Pecalka.
Zilina, making their debut in the tournament, created few scoring chances throughout the game. A long-range shot from Bosnian midfielder Admir Vladavic was saved by Chelsea keeper Petr Cech shortly before half-time and Babatounde Bello headed wide. Daniel Sturridge scored a fourth for Chelsea in the 48th minute from a break, beating Dubravka and Pecalka after a neat pass from Yossi Benayoun.
"The first half was fantastic," added Ancelotti. "We played very well on the counter-attack. We had a lot of chances. It was a fantastic performance.
"The second half was different. We had a good control of the game. We are doing very well. We are in a good moment. We started well in the Premier League and in the Champions League - everything is okay now."
Zilina pushed for a consolation goal and their effort was rewarded in the 55th minute when Tomas Oravec bundled the ball over the line after Branislav Ivanovic and Cech got into a terrible tangle. Ancelotti sent on youngsters Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta and Patrick Van Aanholt for a rare taste of European action.
"We have an important squad. We want at this moment to use all the players," said Ancelotti who was without the suspended Didier Drogba, the injured Frank Lampard and the rested Ashley Cole.
In the next round of Group F matches on 28 September, Chelsea will welcome Marseille, who lost to Spartak Moscow 1-0 on Wednesday while Zilina travel to Moscow.