Chelsea banished the memories of their 2008 UEFA Champions League final defeat in the Luzhniki Stadium with an impressive victory over Spartak Moscow.
First-half goals from Yury Zhirkov and Nicolas Anelka gave Chelsea the momentum to secure a win that now puts them three points clear at the top of Group F. Victory over the Moscow side at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight's time will guarantee the English champions a first-place finish in the group.
The Blues, who lost on penalties to Manchester United in a heartbreaking final two years ago, returned in style to kill off the challenge from the group's only other unbeaten side.
"We have to stay focused for the next game," warned Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti after the match. "We want to arrive in first place," said Ancelotti. "This is our aim and we have the possibility to do this, but we don't need to rest players. The Champions League is important for all the games."
Chelsea had plenty of possession in the opening exchanges but it was Spartak who engineered the first opportunity of the game in the 11th minute. A superb run through the heart of the Chelsea defence by Sergei Parshivlyuk saw him supply a perfect pass to the unmarked Dmitri Kombarov. The Spartak winger had time and space to pick his spot but sent his left-foot shot high over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
In the 14th minute Petr Cech was Chelsea's saviour when an outstretched right leg prevented Welliton's volley from sneaking in at the near post. But Chelsea's response was immediate with Salomon Kalou finding Florent Malouda on the edge of the Spartak penalty area but the French international's shot was just wide of Andriy Dykan's left-hand upright.
Chelsea went in front in the 23rd minute when John Obi Mikel's long ball was knocked into the path of Zhirkov, who fired a 25-yard volley into the roof of the net. It was Zhirkov's first goal for the Blues and arrived just hours after the former CSKA Moscow man had pledged to live up to his £18m price tag.
Michael Essien had the chance to make it two for the Blues in the 31st minute but he elected to cross the ball instead of shooting from an acute angle. Anelka then whipped the ball off the toes of Marek Suchy but his attempted cross was deflected for a corner which Chelsea failed to capitalise on.
Chelsea were dominating the game in midfield and the home side had little to show for their efforts. Anelka squandered another chance in the 37th minute when he latched onto a poor pass and ran clear of the Spartak defence. But the French international, usually so clinical in one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper, lost control of the ball and Dykan was able to prevent Chelsea adding to their lead.
However, Anelka made up for his mistakes with a second goal for the Blues in the 43rd minute. The Chelsea striker collected the ball after a driving run by Essien and then turned the Spartak defence inside out before placing a low shot under Dykan to score his 50th goal for the club.
Spartak began the second half in much brighter fashion but Ari sent the ball high over the bar from the edge of the penalty area in the 47th minute. In the 48th minute, Aiden McGeady, who had been relatively quiet in the opening half, forced a corner for the home side with a dangerous 20-yard drive. Cech dealt with another McGeady effort easily as the Blues coped with the Spartak onslaught.
The Russian side had little guile in attack and Chelsea were more than comfortable to let the home side have possession in the midfield. Kombarov brought a save from Cech in the 59th minute as the home side continued to search for a way back into the game. Ibson thought he had reduced the deficit for Spartak in the 63rd minute but his shot was tipped over by Cech who then kept out another effort from the same player moments later.
Chelsea were under the hammer but they had so far managed to repel the home side, with captain John Terry, who missed the crucial penalty two years ago, in outstanding form. In the 72nd minute, Essien shot wide from ten yards when a goal seemed certain. But Spartak continued to drive forward and Cech dived low to claim a long-range effort from Ari in the 81st minute. Chelsea held on to maintain their perfect record in Europe this season.