COPENHAGEN - If Chelsea are to salvage their season by winning the Champions League, Nicolas Anelka showed with both goals in a 2-0 victory at FC Copenhagen on Tuesday that he could prove to be the unexpected trump card.
The Frenchman, expected to slip down the pecking order when Fernando Torres arrived in a blaze of 50 million pounds hype on deadline day, took his total in this season's competition to seven goals in an assured last 16, first leg win.
Didier Drogba was meanwhile left on the bench and, with Torres still searching for the sharpness that has eluded him all season at Liverpool and Chelsea, Anelka produced the goods to smooth a path towards the quarter-finals.
A comfortable victory over a Copenhagen side appearing rusty from their mid-winter break has lifted some of the pressure that was beginning to mount on Carlo Ancelotti after a Premier League slump that has seen them go from top to fifth.
So impressive was Anelka in sub-zero temperatures in the Danish capital that the question over whether Torres and Drogba can strike a partnership was rendered redundant.
Since arriving at Chelsea from Bolton Wanderers three years ago, Anelka has shed his sulky image and provided excellent value for the 15 million pounds outlay.
In his first full season he scored 25 goals in all competitions followed by 15 last term to help secure the league and FA Cup double.
His brace in Copenhagen took him to 16 for this campaign and briefly deflected the focus from Torres who showed only glimpses of his best from before being substituted late on.
Asked about his team selection, Ancelotti said Chelsea had "the best strikers in Europe" and Drogba was tired after playing in their bruising FA Cup Fourth Round replay defeat by Everton on penalties on Saturday.
"They are fantastic strikers. Didier played two hours against Everton, Torres and Anelka were fresh," Ancelotti told reporters, dismissing suggestions Ivory Coast striker Drogba had not taken the decision well. "He (Drogba) was good, no problem. He focused with the other players on the game."
A potentially tricky tie versus a side that gave as good as they got against Barcelona in the Parken Stadium during the group phase was ultimately made comfortable after Anelka seized on former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer's mistake to fire his side ahead in the 17th minute.
Anelka made it 2-0 after 54 minutes with an almost replica finish after being played in by Frank Lampard and despite a few flurries by Copenhagen they were able to coast home.
"We lost to a better team, they were stronger than us and we made too many technical errors," Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken told reporters.
A good night for Chelsea got better as news of Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League defeat at Blackpool filtered through - a result that leaves Ancelotti's team two points shy of the Champions League places for next season with a game in hand.
Europe's blue riband competition is a prerequisite for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich who opened his wallet again in January to sign Torres and defender David Luiz for a total of about 70 million pounds.
But the sinle-minded Anelka, a relative bargain at just 15 million pounds, proved on Tuesday that he has no intention of being cast into the Stamford Bridge shadows just yet.comments