Champions League - Marseille beat Chelsea

Wed, 08 Dec 21:37:00 2010

Didier Drogba was denied a joyful return to Marseille as Chelsea lost 1-0 in their Champions League dead rubber at the Stade Velodrome.

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With both sides already qualified - Chelsea as group winners - the final match of Group F was of little importance on paper, but Brandao's close-range winner nine minutes from time struck another blow to the Premier League champions' already-fragile confidence.

Drogba received a heroes' welcome on his first match back at the club on which he left an indelible mark despite spending just one season there, but he again looked out of sorts as his search for a first goal from open play since October continues, while his team looked a long way short of being serious contenders for European glory.

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti fielded a strong side, despite there being nothing riding on the match except the opportunity to become the fifth club to complete a group stage with a 100 per cent record, with young midfielder Josh McEachran the only second-string selection.

Ancelotti wanted a solid performance from his players to help lift them out of their current domestic slump ahead of games against Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, but instead saw his players overrun by Marseille, who were without the influential Andre-Pierre Gignac and began the evening with top scorer Lucho Gonzalez on the bench.

Right from the off Didier Deschamps's side were fully in charge, with Mathieu Valbuena at the heart of most of their best attacks. The France international fired in a dipping strike that crashed off the crossbar before sending a diving header wide of the target moments later.

Loic Remy was also impressive, and he drilled a low strike wide before Brandao fired off target on the turn. All this happened in the first quarter of an hour, but Chelsea thought they were given an escape route when Souleymane Diawara brought down Florent Malouda. Russian referee Vladislav Bezborodov - taking charge of his first Champions League fixture - immediately pointed to the spot, only for his assistant behind the goal to insist that the Senegalese defender had got a touch of the ball. Chelsea had to make do with a corner.

That incident temporarily buoyed the visitors, with Michael Essien firing right at goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and Drogba shooting over the bar, but Marseille remained on top and had the ball in the back of the net 10 minutes before half-time.

Benoit Cheyrou's curling free-kick delivery was glanced past Petr Cech by Gabriel Heinze, but the linesman's flag was up for a questionable offside against the Argentine full-back.

Diawara was again fortunate not to concede a spot-kick just before the break when he felled Salomon Kalou, but this time the referee needed no help from his assistants in denying Chelsea a clear penalty.

Chances were at a much higher premium in the second half, and with Drogba and Valbuena both withdrawn on the hour-mark, the contest lost much of its spark.

Lucho was introduced, and from his corner Taye Taiwo drove a low strike into the box that rebounded off John Terry and out for a corner, just evading any of the Marseille players in the area.

Daniel Sturridge raised the impetus in the Chelsea attack slightly upon his introduction, but the Blues were consigned to their second away defeat in their last 11 European trips on 81 minutes when Taiwo cut in from the left and shot. The strike ricocheted off the leg of Ramires and into Brandao's path, and the unmarked Brazilian couldn't miss from close range.

The results pages may show this match as insignificant, but in reality it is another blow for Ancelotti and his team to overcome.

Tony Mabert / Eurosport

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