Chelsea have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals following a 2-0 win away to FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.
A brace from Frenchman Nicolas Anelka gave the English Premier League champions a comfortable win at the Parken Stadion and earned a measure of respite for under-fire manager Carlo Ancelotti.
With the team a distant fifth in the league, Italian coach Ancelotti is reportedly under significant pressure to retain his job – particularly after Chelsea’s fourth-round FA Cup exit at home to Everton on Saturday.
But there was no sign of another disaster thanks to a dominant performance in their round-of-16 first-leg match against the Danish title holders.
Big-money signing Fernando Torres was recalled in favour of Didier Drogba but struggled again to make an impression, despite a slight improvement on his recent performances.
Copenhagen goalkeeper Johan Wiland was able to smother an early chance after a heavy touch from the Spain striker.
Zdenek Pospech had the best opportunity for the hosts when he broke through the Chelsea defence and had his shot blocked, with the ball then ricocheting around the area before being cleared.
But it was the English side who made the breakthrough when striker Anelka accepted a misplaced pace from former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer on 16 minutes.
The Frenchman raced clear of the defence and slotted a typically cool finish beyond Wiland for 1-0.
Chelsea pressed their advantage but Torres failed to extend the lead, gifting Wiland another simple save before wasting a good pass from midfielder Frank Lampard.
Anelka also went close with a header from Florent Maloud’s cross.
Midfielder Martin Vingaard came on for Copenhagen at half-time and troubled Chelsea’s Petr Cech with a long-range effort.
He also curled another shot straight into the goalkeeper’s arms.
But while the Danish hosts lifted their tempo considerably, it was to be Chelsea who struck again.
With 53 minutes on the clock, Lampard released Anelka in behind the opposition defence and the 31-year-old made it 2-0 with another emphatic shot past a helpless Wiland.
Copenhagen might have had a penalty when defender Branislav Ivanovic brought down Gronkjaer, but the flag was already up for offside.
N’Doye Dame, Vingaard and Claudemir all had speculative attempts easily dealt with by Cech as Chelsea eased through the final exchanges.
They now hold an significant advantage of two away goals and will be confident of progressing to the quarter-finals after the return match on March 16.