Chelsea avoided the unthinkable with a 3-0 home win over Valencia as manager Andre Villas-Boas sacrificed his ideals for a place in the Champions League knockout phase.
With the Blues in danger of crashing out of Europe's premier club competition before Christmas for the first time, Villas-Boas abandoned the cavalier tactics that have been the hallmark of his reign in what was the club's final Group E game.
The counter-attacking approach paid off spectacularly as Chelsea emerged from the brink of elimination to top the group thanks to a brace from the outstanding Didier Drogba, a goal from Ramires and Bayer Leverkusen's failure to win at Genk. That meant they avoided a last-16 clash with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, although they would gladly have taken that ahead of a game Villas-Boas had repeatedly billed as "life or death".
The fastest goal they had scored in the Champions League could hardly have been better timed as Drogba put them ahead inside three minutes. Daniel Sturridge picked out Juan Mata at the far post and the Spaniard squared to the Ivorian, who was given an age to fire left-footed beyond Diego Alves.
Valencia twice went close to levelling inside the opening 10 minutes when Jordi Alba crashed a shot against the outside of the post and Petr Cech clawed David Albelda's blockbuster away from the top corner. But Chelsea scored again midway through the half. Drogba's pass looked too heavy for Ramires but the Brazilian brushed off the feeblest of challenges from Victor Ruiz before slotting underneath the stranded Alves.
Drogba should have made the game safe with 18 minutes remaining when he left Adil Rami in a heap bursting onto Sturridge's ball over the top but dragged wide with the goal at his mercy. The striker made amends four minutes later after being slid in by Mata and poking the ball past Alves with the outside of his right foot for his fourth goal in the last four games.