What else can you say about Didier Drogba? He puts chances away against the best, and against the not so good as well. Today, Drogba secured Chelsea's first away win in Europe for more than ten months with a hat-trick as the Blues came out 3-1 winners over Levski Sofia. The Ivory Coast international scored either side of the half-time break and completed his treble in the 68th minute when he diverted Frank Lampard's shot into the net. It took his tally for the season to seven goals and ensured the Premiership champions will go into next month's UEFA Champions League double-header against Barcelona with six points in the bag.
Substitute Mariyan Ognyanov grabbed a late consolation for Levski but it was still a ruthlessly effective display from Chelsea which ended Jose Mourinho's long wait for an away win on the continent. This was the first since Anderlecht last November and it was all down to Drogba, who also rattled the crossbar early in the game.
He scored his first, six minutes before the break, to dampen the spirits of a 42,000 full house at Bulgaria's national stadium. Paulo Ferreira slanted a deep cross into the Levski goalmouth and centre-half Igor Tomasic headed it down to the feet of John Obi Mikel as he tried to clear. Mikel's well-struck shot forced a flying save from goalkeeper Georgi Petkov but the rebound fell straight to Drogba. The centre-forward made no mistake, firing it into the net on the half-volley from a narrow angle.
His second, in the 52nd minute, was the goal which killed off Levski's challenge. Drogba controlled a long pass on his chest, turned defender Elin Topuzakov on the edge of the box and squeezed a shot under Petkov. It only just had the power to reach the net after Petkov's attempted save took the pace off the shot, but it crept into the bottom right corner.
Drogba had luck on his side as he completed the hat-trick by flicking Lampard's shot into the net. It was his first hat-trick for the club and the first by any Chelsea player in the Champions League.
Drogba's prolific form is in distinct contract to Andriy Shevchenko who continues to look out of sorts at his new club. Mikel threaded a pass into his path in the first half but the Ukrainian's touch let him down on the edge of the box. Then the $38.1M man lost his marker to meet Michael Ballack's cross from the left wing but mistimed his header and it skidded wide. His best effort came in the second-half when he smashed a fierce shot over, but he was replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips seven minutes from time.
Shevchenko's mood was not helped when his face was cut by Zhivko Milanov's arm as the two players chased a long ball early in the game. The Chelsea star was furious with referee French Laurent Duhamel for not spotting the wayward elbow.
Levski, thrashed 5-0 in Barcelona two weeks ago, started the game impressively, roared on by their noisy supporters. They often had Mourinho's men on the back foot during a first half in which they forced six corners. John Terry, back in Chelsea's defence after missing Saturday's EPL win at Fulham, had to fling himself in front of an early shot from Cedric Bardon. Wayne Bridge, preferred to Ashley Cole, made two telling interceptions at the back as well.
Levski's lone striker Hristo Yovov slipped his marker to reach a long pass from Daniel Borimirov but could not get any power in his header. Chelsea stood firm and forced their way into the game and Drogba rattled the bar with a volley in the 14th minute. There was a hint of offside as the ball spilled out to him after Mikel's charge into the penalty area but the linesman's flag stayed down. Drogba swivelled well and unleashed a right-footed volley, which hit the underside of the bar, bounced down without crossing the goalline and spun to safety.
Seven minutes later and the Levski goal was under attack again, this time from Ballack. The German was allowed time and space to shoot from distance and Petkov dived to his left to tip the effort onto the post. Again the Bulgarians were able to scramble the ball clear.
Drogba's opener settled Chelsea nerves just before the interval and from that point the outcome was never really in doubt. Levski coach Stanimir Stoilov sent on forward Georgi Ivanov late in the game and he inspired a strong finish from the Bulgarians. Petr Cech made a sequence of brilliant saves to deny Ivanov but the Chelsea goalkeeper was beaten in the 89th minute by substitute Ognaynov, who burst clear and spoiled his clean sheet with a low drive.
What to make of it all? Drogba is on a tear, but it remains to be seen if it can carry over into next month when they face Barca. Shevchenko is another matter. He makes intelligent runs off the ball, but just can't seem to get on the end of opportunities that come his way. If things don't change soon for him, I can see Mourinho going for a three man front line with Drogba in the middle with two wingers in support. Either way, Chelsea versus Barcelona should bring more drama than we can handle.
Man of the Match: Didier Drogba
Match Stats [UEFA]