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FC Copenhagen 0-2 Chelsea | Champions League match report

Lost amid the tub-thumping rallying cry delivered by John Terry on the eve of this contest had been Carlo Ancelotti's reminder that Chelsea had "not died". This first-leg saunter in Denmark was nothing more than confirmation that the Champions League may yet breathe new life into the club's season. The Londoners have their respite.

They will not draw too many conclusions from a contest that appeared a mismatch once a lead had been established. But, where confidence had been so brittle after a sequence that had yielded only five wins in 16 and seen them jettisoned from the FA Cup and playing catch-up in the Premier League, hindsight would now suggest that a meeting with FC Copenhagen, who had been in competitive hibernation for more than two months, was a godsend.

The evening could hardly have gone better. While TottenhamHotspur were sinking at Blackpool back home, leaving Chelsea two points adrift of their rivals in the coveted fourth place with a game in hand, progress was being smoothed towards a quarter-final berth in Europe. Just as significantly, Ancelotti employed a system in which Fernando Torres and his team-mates seemed comfortable. Nicolas Anelka ended the evening as the Champions League's joint leading scorer for the campaign to date, level with Internazionale's Samuel Eto'o on seven, but Torres's rewards will also be forthcoming with performances such as this.

After Christmas trees and diamonds, this was more of a conventional 4-4-2 with Didier Drogba, absent from the pre-match warm-up as he underwent a rubdown in the warmth of the changing rooms, required for only the last 17 minutes, once the game had long since been won.

There was more width to enjoy down the left, where Florent Malouda stretched disconcerted opponents, and Ramires offered industry and energy tucked in slightly from the opposite flank. Chelsea have appeared awkward in recent weeks, attempting to shoehorn Torres into a variety of systems to squeeze form from their £50m signing. They may have stumbled upon a solution.

Better teams might have exploited the visitors' lack of a natural defensive midfielder, with gaps sometimes apparent between Frank Lampard and Michael Essien in the centre, but the Danes were too rusty to capitalise. Johan Wiland, alone of their players, appeared sharp, but the Swedish goalkeeper was horribly overworked and his reactions staved off a drubbing. He denied Torres a hat-trick, blocking at the Spaniard's feet twice in the first half and then pushing away a well-worked attempt with an outstretched hand after the break. When the goalkeeper was beaten, Oscar Wendt scrambled back to clear an effort from the line.

There was fluid movement and clever combination play to admire from Torres, as well as industry in tracking back to sniff out possession. He departed heartened, feeling as if he belonged, though Anelka's goals secured the victory. The Frenchman has rejoiced in the Champions League this term and he maintained outstanding form with two goals that left the locals numbed in a bitter sense of anticlimax.

Stale Solbakken's side had been preparing specifically for this contest since returning to training in early January, but were off the pace and out-muscled throughout. Not since Marseille won here a little over a year ago have their first-choice team been outclassed at Parken. At no stage did they threaten to snuff out Anelka's menace; the return fixture must now feel daunting.

The Frenchman had already been denied twice when Jesper Gronkjaer, a Chelsea player for four years until 2004, attempted to find Claudemir and merely presented Anelka with possession just inside the Danish side's half. The Frenchman was allowed to glide into the area unchallenged, Mikael Antonsson unable to muster a tackle, before finishing smartly beyond Wiland. "They were stronger than us and we made too many technical errors," said Solbakken,. Gronkjaer's misplaced pass was more basic.

The home side attempted to stir after the interval but Chelsea retained their bite on the break and a second goal reflected their true dominance. Lampard collected from Essien 54 minutes in and with the Danes anticipating a delivery for Torres, conjured a neat reverse pass to by-pass Antonsson and send Anelka through. The 31-year-old's finish was low and true, across Wiland and into the corner.

Ancelotti departed with the substantial travelling support chanting his name, prompting a polite wave and even the hint of a grin. Manchester United will test at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday whether the tide has truly turned but although a second leg of this tie awaits in three weeks' time, Chelsea will already feel as if the last eight beckons.

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Carlo Ancelotti says Chelsea cannot lose to Copenhagen

• Manager admits most of his team not playing their best
• Champions League is Chelsea's last chance for silverware

A defiant Carlo Ancelotti has refused to countenance the possibility of his ailing Chelsea side enduring Champions League humiliation to FC Copenhagen on Tuesday. Elimination from the FA Cup on Saturday intensified the pressure on the Italian, who insisted that he would not consider his own position even if Chelsea's season continued to unravel.

Defeat to Everton on penalties on Saturday was the London club's first in the FA Cup since 2008 and, with Manchester United now a distant 12 points clear of the title holders, has left the Champions League as Chelsea's only remaining route to silverware. Ancelotti and his side were due to fly to Denmark on Monday before the first leg of their European tie with the stark admission that only two or three of his players are playing near their best, but insistent that a loss to Danish opponents is unthinkable.

"Chelsea will not go out against Copenhagen," he said. "Playing this game gives us the right kind of pressure. We have 180 minutes coming up to win this tie. We have to maintain our levels, stay together and work hard together. Maybe this game will be a good moment to get a result and, obviously, keep our season alive. We are out of the FA Cup, and we haven't done well in the Premier League: to win the Champions League will not be easy, but it brings great motivation for all of us.

"As for me, I am not here to consider my own position. It is the owner who has to consider my position. I just have to work and try my best. The pressure is football – you have to be able to manage at moments like this." Ancelotti has a year to run on his contract at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of this season, with no talks scheduled until summer at the earliest over extending his stay. Both parties are apparently at ease over that arrangement. Asked whether he would ever walk away from the job, he replied: "No."

Regardless, the repercussions of elimination to the Danes would threaten his position. Chelsea already face a stern test to finish in the top four this year – they trail Tottenham Hotspur by two points after only five wins in 16 league matches – but losing over two legs to FC Copenhagen would represent humiliation. Stale Solbakken's side have not played a competitive fixture since their last group game in early December and have never reached this stage of the knockout phase before. To be jettisoned by such unfancied opponents could yet make Ancelotti's position untenable, whether immediately or at the end of the season.

Ancelotti was painfully realistic in conceding his team's confidence was fragile at best. Asked how many of his players other than the goalkeeper Petr Cech were performing near their peak, the manager replied: "At this moment? [Branislav] Ivanovic, who is playing consistently. And [John] Terry. A couple of others are not, at this moment, playing with 100% fitness."

That would appear to refer to the likes of Frank Lampard, Chelsea's scorer against Everton, and Didier Drogba, but may also apply to Fernando Torres. The £50m forward, who has shown only flashes of his best in his two games for the club to date, is eligible for the Champions League and will start at the Parken Stadium with the visitors hopeful his period of adjustment into a new team is now over.

Ancelotti needs the forward to find his form immediately. The manager's achievement in winning the Premier League and FA Cup in his first season in charge, together with the reality that Roman Abramovich had personally pursued his appointment from Milan having missed out in the summer of 2008, had offered him some level of security in his position. Indeed, the owner's lavish £71.6m outlay on Torres and David Luiz – who is cup-tied in Europe – last month had reinforced the sense that the manager would be given time to rejuvenate his squad.

Yet a fourth-place finish and qualification for the Champions League, with its financial implications, still represents the minimum requirement expected of any Chelsea manager and, at present, inconsistent form is threatening that pursuit. Torres's attempt to settle is just another aspect betraying the fact that, both on the pitch and behind the scenes, this feels like a club in a state of flux.

While the manager's long-term future at Stamford Bridge remains the focus, Hamburg have confirmed Frank Arnesen will become their director of football in the summer when, as planned, he leaves Chelsea at the end of his contract. The Premier League club's chief scout Lee Congerton is to accompany the Dane to the Bundesliga club as technical director. Hans Gillhaus is leaving to join the Dutch team Feyenoord as its technical director and the French scout Guy Hillion is to become the sporting director at Nantes. Chelsea is to implement a radical overhaul of its scouting department.

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‘I don’t know if Abramovich would have bought Chelsea without my goal’

Jesper Gronkjaer, now at FC Copenhagen, recounts the inside story of the Russian's Stamford Bridge revolution

Jesper Gronkjaer is well aware of the legend, even if he cannot vouch entirely for its veracity. Just prior to kick-off on the final day of the domestic campaign eight years ago, the then Chelsea chief executive, Trevor Birch, addressed a hushed squad in the changing room at Stamford Bridge and confirmed the club was teetering on the brink of financial ruin. Lose to Liverpool and players would be sold, merciless cutbacks implemented across the board and ambitions radically downsized.

Yet some two hours later, with victory secured and Champions League qualification guaranteed at the visitors' expense, that same club had apparently been transformed into the plaything Roman Abramovich could not resist. Within six weeks, Chelsea would be bought, with money suddenly no object, and the landscape of the modern game would never be the same again. And all, as the myth goes, courtesy of Gronkjaer's first-half winner, daisy-cut into the far corner beyond a sprawling Jerzy Dudek: the billion-pound goal.

The lavish nature of the Abramovich era has served to embellish the mystique associated with that effort. Chelsea had needed only a draw that day so, technically, Gronkjaer's cross for Marcel Desailly's equaliser had been just as significant. The memory plays tricks too, when it comes to the goal itself, with the Dane recalling beating "three or four defenders", rather than just John Arne Riise. But the finish, conjured as he slipped to the turf, knocked the stuffing out of Gérard Houllier's team and made a debt-ridden Chelsea a more enticing proposition. "We all knew what we'd been playing for that afternoon," Gronkjaer says. "I don't know whether Abramovich would have bought Chelsea without my goal but the Champions League certainly made the club far more attractive. That is sure. Even so, no one would have believed he would come along with the amount of money he did, though."

Rumour had it that the oligarch had been weighing up whether to pour his rubles into either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur, who ended in mid-table that year. His decision made by a top-four finish, the summer would prompt a wave of spending the like of which had never been seen in the English game. Gronkjaer witnessed the first shots of the revolution from within the Chelsea dressing room but watched Abramovich flex his muscles in the transfer window last month, with £50m splashed out on Fernando Torres in a bid to secure the club's first European Cup, as an opponent in waiting. Now at FC Copenhagen, whom Chelsea confront on Tuesday, the 33-year-old hopes to frustrate his former club's annual pursuit of the Champions League.

The winger's four-year spell in London spanned the end of one era and the beginning of another, though his last season was played out amid upheaval in the immediate aftermath of Abramovich's takeover. The new owner purchased almost a new team in the close season of 2003, with over £113m spent on 10 new recruits – Hernán Crespo to Juan Sebastián Verón, Adrian Mutu to Claude Makelele – while those who had finished fourth the previous year looked on.

"We'd all thought it was just a normal takeover and didn't imagine he would have so much money and that everything would change," Gronkjaer says. "I remember on the second day of pre-season training, Abramovich turned up at the training ground and spoke to us all in Russian, with someone translating for him.

"It was maybe two or three weeks after the takeover and there were rumours flying around about everything: a new coach, new players, a new training ground, even a new stadium. It was a stressful period and the players already at the club had mixed feelings. Most of us were wondering if we would stay or go. He told us all to calm down, that some new players would come in and that he was going to change things a bit. It was good to escape to Malaysia for our pre-season tour but even there you couldn't escape things. New players were arriving all the time: Wayne Bridge suddenly walked in; the next day Damien Duff turned up, then Geremi, Joe Cole, Verón … it was a new team in the space of a few weeks.

"We all knew no one would spend that much for players to have them sitting on the bench but I decided to stay. I was worried about getting games – I wasn't just there for the money – but Claudio Ranieri said he wanted to keep me. We'd see Abramovich occasionally over the course of that year. He'd come into the dressing room, not saying anything – I don't know if he could speak English, or even understand it – but sitting there like one of the boys. But that was a difficult season, particularly for the manager, who was under pressure straight away. There were constant rumours about him leaving and he did very well keeping the pressure off the players. For Chelsea to finish second in the league and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League should have been a fantastic achievement but we didn't win anything."

Expectation levels had shifted. Elimination by Monaco when a first European Cup final was within reach left Ranieri a dead man walking. Sven-Goran Eriksson had been courted all too publicly by then, with attention subsequently turning to Porto's José Mourinho. The final-day victory over Leeds represented a farewell for both Ranieri and the goalscorer, Gronkjaer, with the players aware of the fate that awaited their manager. "We made a guard of honour for him to walk down that afternoon, but he knew," the Dane says. "He'd been up against it the whole season. I'd love to have won things there, too, but I'd decided to leave, back in the spring."

Brief spells at Birmingham City, Atlético Madrid and VfB Stuttgart followed before a return home to Copenhagen. The Danish club's achievement in reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time, emerging from a group that had included Barcelona (who were fortunate to escape the Parken stadium with a point), should not be underestimated. Their prospects have been hampered by the reality that their last competitive action was against Panathinaikos in December, with the Danish domestic season not due to start until next month. A training camps in La Manga, the Copa del Sol and two friendlies, the second won 5-0 against Rosenborg, represents the extent of their preparations. At best, they will be fresh.

"We have a chance," Gronkjaer says. "Chelsea have had a dip but they have missed Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba for part of the season, and they are two crucial players for them. Unfortunately for us they can still reach their top form, and they have brought in Torres. We know we're never going to be favourites but, if we can secure a good result in Copenhagen, we can give ourselves a chance.

"They will win the Champions League one day but to do that you obviously need a good team but also some luck. At the moment, Barcelona are probably a level above everyone else, so it's hard, but the signing of Torres shows Abramovich still has ambition and power. It said something. What has he spent there now? Only he can say whether it's been worth it." Gronkjaer will live with the legend that his goal convinced the billionaire to take the plunge in west London.

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