Chelsea 3-0 Valencia

By Phil McNultyChief football writer at Stamford Bridge
Raul Meireles and Ramires
Chelsea had won only four of their previous 10 games in all competitions

Chelsea reached the Champions League knockout phase as Didier Drogba inspired them to the win they required against Valencia at Stamford Bridge.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas took the bold decision to drop the vastly experienced Frank Lampard for a game that could have shaped the Blues boss's future - then saw another of Stamford Bridge's old guard prove the catalyst to confirm a place in the last 16 as Group E winners.

Drogba, who has been linked with a move as he holds out for a two-year contract, was in irresistible mood and terrorised Valencia throughout, scoring a goal in each half as Chelsea ran out emphatic winners, putting the Spanish side out of the competition in the process.

The Ivorian also played his part in Chelsea's second with a run of trademark power and purpose midway through the first half to set up Ramires, a goal which came just as Valencia threatened to work their way back into the game.

Media persecute Chelsea - Villas-Boas

Chelsea's win and progress from the group stage was a rich reward for Villas-Boas's bravery in leaving out Lampard, completing a satisfactory few days for the 34-year-old Portuguese after a vital Premier League win at Newcastle United on Saturday.

Villas-Boas has been under the spotlight following Chelsea's recent struggles, but a measure of calm and stability can now be restored as they play for the familiar territory of the later stages of the Champions League.

Lampard remained an unused substitute but Chelsea's win more than justified Villas-Boas's decision to hand midfield responsibility to Ramires, Raul Meireles and impressive youngster Oriol Romeu.

For all the debate about Lampard, his absence was irrelevant in the opening exchanges as Drogba used all his physical presence to prey on Valencia's weaknesses.

He took only three minutes to settle the nerves around a noisy Stamford Bridge, taking advantage of good work by Valencia old boy Juan Mata to roll a left-foot finish beyond Diego Alves.

Valencia's response was robust and positive. Jordi Alba rattled the outside of an upright before David Albelda's long-range effort was splendidly clawed away by the diving Petr Cech.

As Valencia threatened to force their way back into contention, Drogba was again the driving force as Chelsea increased their lead after 22 minutes. He surged through the heart of Valencia's rearguard to play in Ramires, but it still took inept defending from Victor Ruiz to allow the Brazilian to steal in and poke his shot past Diego Alves.

Daniel Sturridge's pace was causing problems on right flank and twice either side of the interval he created chances but saw his efforts blocked at the near post.

Valencia signalled that they still posed a danger as Cech again saved well from Sofiane Feghouli's angled shot - which prompted Villas-Boas to make a change, sending on Jon Obi Mikel for Ramires.

It was not a decision that was universally acclaimed around Stamford Bridge, with Lampard receiving a warm ovation as he warmed up at the same time.

Drogba, inevitably, was the man who upped the tempo to ease any lingering concerns, first firing narrowly wide before running on to another astute Mata pass to score with 14 minutes left.

He was then replaced to a standing ovation as Villas-Boas gave Fernando Torres a run-out as the closing stages turned into little more than a formality.

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