John Terry's pre-match suggestion that the Champions League might provide respite to Chelsea was borne out
After looking tortured against Fulham in the Premier League and troubled against Everton in the FA Cup, John Terry's pre-match suggestion that European competition might provide his team with some respite appeared to be borne out. His "man-up" rallying cry sounded like a desperate attempt to rouse his team-mates to salvage something from an imploding season. But after this encouraging performance, it may be a turning point after all. A potential banana skin turned out to be the best possible tonic. Petr Cech barely had a save to make and while opponents in the Premier League have learned that the best way to unsettle a Chelsea side lacking in confidence is to hustle them into mistakes, the Danish team stood off and allowed them to stroke the ball around and regain at least a modicum of the fluency that has eluded them for most of the past few months. Carlo Ancelotti will be mindful, however, that all Chelsea's flickers of hope in recent months have come away from home (Sunderland and Bolton away) and it is at the once impregnable Stamford Bridge that they have repeatedly come unstuck.
Six goals in his past nine games and seven in all in the Champions League for Nicolas Anelka. While Didier Drogba sulked on the bench and Fernando Torres was willing but still not able, Anelka dispatched his chances with finality. Not for the first time, he will have left supporters wondering how the peripheral figure who lazily missed his FA Cup penalty on Saturday tallied with the clinical finisher on display. It would be a pleasing irony for Ancelotti if, in trying to solve the puzzle of fitting Drogba and Torres into the same side, he restored Anelka's confidence.
By trusting his new signing ahead of Drogba, Ancelotti raised the stakes for the Spanish forward as he continued to search for an answer to the conundrum of how to fit him into a misfiring team. A week of intense fitness work looked to have left him looking sharper – outside the box at least. He played a couple of lovely passes to Anelka early on but still misfired when chances came his way. An early half-chance following a skewed Ramires shot was snaffled by the goalkeeper after a heavy first touch. On another couple of occasions Torres got clear of the last man but his touch let him down, as it often has in a Chelsea shirt. With nearly an hour gone, he again did well to fashion a chance but saw his shot saved. He was left on the pitch when Drogba came on for Anelka as the Chelsea manager willed a goal for his £50m man, but to no avail. Perhaps the only disappointment on an encouraging night for Chelsea was that Torres was unable to break his duck against such lacklustre opposition.
Having concluded that diamonds aren't forever after losing at home to Liverpool and trying a variation on the Christmas tree for a narrow draw at Craven Cottage that left the play looking disjointed, Ancelotti tried a 4-4-2 here that put the onus on Frank Lampard and Michael Essien to play a bit deeper. Despite looking lopsided on paper, with Ramires tucking in on one side and the misfiring Florent Malouda playing wider on the other, here they were given the room to play and found fluency in their passing for the first time in weeks.
All those who habitually call for a winter break may like to ponder a recording of this match. This did not look like a team who are 19 points clear in their domestic league playing against one 12 points behind their leaders and supposedly suffering a crisis of confidence. Copenhagen's form in qualifying for the last 16 suggested a stern test – they drew at home to Barcelona and their only defeats were away at the Camp Nou and Rubin Kazan. Supposedly impregnable at home in the way their visitors used to be, the Danes looked rusty and nervous, particularly after the former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer gave the ball away for the opening goal. Their nervousness was further betrayed by the high line they played in defence, their habit of gifting possession to their opponents and the space they afforded Chelsea. They were marginally better in the second half, testing Cech from long range, but could not have been much worse.