Match Report: Little love for Rafa Benitez despite Oscar's gift for Chelsea against Sparta Prague

Sparta Prague 0 Chelsea 1

Generali Arena

Chelsea began life in the Europa League with an unconvincing victory in Prague which did little to suggest that Rafael Benitez’s love affair with the club has much time left to run.

It took a sublime goal from Oscar to hand Chelsea an undeserved victory with eight minutes remaining and provide the only moment of quality in a dire game.

For the 1,200 Chelsea fans who made the trip, declarations of affection were in short supply on Valentine's Day. Instead, until Oscar lifted their spirits, they again aimed abusive chants in his direction.

Understandably, the former Liverpool coach was in a more positive mood and his team should book their place in the last 16 when the second leg takes place next Thursday.

Benitez said: "We have confidence, with a lot of respect for Sparta. At least we have scored the away goal."

The Spaniard also revealed the continuing problems with John Terry's recovery from a knee problem. "He had a set-back," Benitez said of his captain, who travelled but did not play. "After he was fine again. He had no reaction in the next training session.

"It's a vicious circle: if he cannot play, he cannot improve his match fitness. We have to manage. In the meantime if Cahill and Ivanovic are doing well at least we can keep winning games."

This game just showed how far Chelsea have fallen since they lifted the Champions League last May. They are now struggling to defeat second-rate opposition.

Even though Sparta Prague last played a competitive game on 6 December, any gap in quality between the sides was not evident.

One of the main reasons was striker Fernando Torres, who extended his woeful goal return to just one in his last 13 games.

In the 35th minute Juan Mata rolled the ball into his path with just the keeper Tomas Vaclik to beat and he scuffed his shot straight at him. He repeated the trick four minutes later, this time Frank Lampard the provider.

It always felt like a bit of an understatement when Benitez admitted before the game that having only one striker, Torres, available for the tournament was a "problem".

Near the end Torres sliced a shot so badly it went out for a throw-in and once again Benitez had the difficult job of defending him. He said: "Everybody expects a striker just to score goals, but he's also doing a great job for the team. His work-rate today was really good and thanks to him and the rest of the team, the second line could create." His rhetoric was unconvincing, just as Torres and the rest of his team-mates were.

At least they have Oscar. He showed the guile his team-mates had been lacking seconds after replacing Juan Mata by dancing through the Sparta defenders and rolling the ball into the bottom corner. Sparta never played with enough belief to cause an upset.

This display exposed how far the Champions League holders have fallen and that even the much-derided Europa League looks a step too high for them.

Man of the match Oscar.

Match rating 5/10.

Referee D Orsato (It).

Attendance 18,952.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks