There are some in these parts who believed Jose Mourinho could create Chelsea’s new world in six days and six nights. The man himself knows that this is about evolution, as he made it clear ahead of the game, and there is still some way to go.
A straightforward if scrappy victory over Steaua Bucharest meant it was job done: Group E won and a place among the top seeds for Monday’s draw for next year’s knockout stages secured. But this was not the victory – against one of the worst sides that will be seen at Stamford Bridge this season – Mourinho wanted.
The manager has bemoaned his side’s inability to kill off matches – it cost them dearly at Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday – and there were moments when he must have feared it could do so again.
Not that their progress to the last 16 was ever seriously threatened, but Mourinho would have wanted more. The same issues that have shrouded recent performances clouded Mourinho’s side again: moments of sloppiness at the back, imprecision in midfield and up front a desperate lack of clinical finishing. It was a match that would have happily got lost in the fog that clustered over the capital for much of the day.
Demba Ba, the night’s chosen striker, did score, via a scuff off his shin, but then scooped over a glorious second-half chance. Minutes later, when he conceded possession cheaply, Mourinho stood on the touchline and gently shook his head. Don’t expect to see Ba against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
With a run of eight games in the next three weeks – taking in four competitions – Mourinho made the promised changes. He prefers not to use the word rotation, saying it brings the air of a weakened team and Jose doesn’t do weakness. But he spun the wheel seven times from the side beaten at Stoke on Saturday. Ashley Cole started for the first time in five weeks, since being dropped after the defeat at Newcastle, and behind him the 41-year-old Mark Schwarzer made his Champions League debut
He would have hoped, and like most here probably expected, that Chelsea would punish a Steaua side who arrived in London without a Champions League group stage win in 22 games.
A series of early corners, none comfortably dealt with by the Steaua defence, provided a good idea of what was coming. Sure enough, Willian whipped in another corner, Oscar, horribly unattended, flicked the ball on, Steaua’s Daniel Georgievski and Ba contested it at the far post and it ended up in the visitors’ net. TV replays eventually showed Ba’s shin had made the final contact.
It was a messy goal to suit a messy opening half, one dominated by Chelsea, who retained around 70 per cent of possession as the visitors sat back in numbers. But though Chelsea had the ball and the control, as at Stoke and Everton, two of their three Premier League defeats, they were not clinical enough.
In the Premier League they were made to pay and here they could have been again denied an interval lead. John Obi Mikel, who had a careless match, was caught in possession after Steaua cleared yet another corner and, with the defence out of position, Gabriel Iancu was given a clear run on Schwarzer’s goal only to slide a left-foot shot wide.
It was a let-off and it brought Mourinho off his seat to scold his players. They reasserted themselves, with Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard going close.
Ba should have converted Ivanovic’s cross early in the second half but shot over from close range. André Schürrle replaced Oscar and produced most of the few bright moments in the second half, with Eden Hazard heading over after the ball broke to him following a run by the German. The Belgian and Oscar, as well as Mourinho, were targeted by a green laser from the crowd. It was a rare example of anything finding its target, and when Ba did find the net again in the closing moments, he was offside.
Man of the match Schürrle.
Match rating 4/10.
Referee G Rocchi (It).
Neymar hat-trick as Barcelona hit Celtic for six
Celtic’s Champions League campaign ended in jolting fashion as Barcelona’s Neymar scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition at the Nou Camp.
It was the visitors’ heaviest defeat in Europe since they lost 5-0 away to Artmedia in 2005 and, in truth, it could have been more damaging.
Celtic were guaranteed to finish bottom of Group H before the trip to Catalonia and they found themselves behind after only seven minutes when Gerard Pique opened the scoring from close range.
It was 3-0 by half-time and Neymar completed his hat-trick on the hour mark.
Cristian Tello hit the sixth with 19 minutes to go before Georgios Samaras grabbed a late goal.