A deeply flattering scoreline took Chelsea to the top of the Group E table here last night, though hardly in the grand manner. It required three goals in the last 11 minutes of a pleasingly open match to see off spirited opposition in Nordsjaelland with their insistent possession game, occasionally let down by naive mistakes.
Without John Terry, Chelsea's defence allowed last season's surprise Danish champions some scope and scoring opportunities, but the home side's best period, lasting much of the second half, was brutally truncated. David Luiz added a badly needed second goal direct from a free-kick and it was a case of rubbing it in when Juan Mata scored his second goal of the night and finally Ramires tapped into an empty net.
As expected, Roberto Di Matteo rested one of his new midfield trio in Eden Hazard as well as Jon Obi Mikel and Terry. That meant Frank Lampard taking the captaincy and one of the defensive midfield berths after missing the last two Premier League games, while Victor Moses was given a first start that he did not make the best of. The Spaniard Fernando Torres, maintaining his record as the only outfield player to have started every game this season, worked hard without converting any of his chances, the lack of options made clear by a substitutes' bench devoid of any other striker.
"We expected a difficult game and that's what it was," Di Matteo said. "We were looking for that second goal to close the game off." Until it came, his team had been in danger of dropping further points to add to those frittered away in losing a 2-0 lead at home to Juventus. Now, however, a four-goal bonus has taken them ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk, their next opponents in a double-header.
The home supporters, who normally number no more than 9,000 at their own ground in Farum, must have feared defeat by several goals early on in Copenhagen, but Nordsjaelland recovered well, only to fall behind as a result of their greatest fault, which was over-playing. Even the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, might not advocate quite as much passing in and around their own penalty area.
Enoch Adu was some 10 yards outside it when Torres brushed him off the ball. He had support in the shape of Lampard, who immediately found Mata for a smart finish. In the opening 10 minutes alone, Oscar drove narrowly wide, Moses headed against a post while clashing heads with the outstanding 20 year-old defender Jores Okore and Lampard showed that he can still race into the penalty area as of old, hitting Mata's pass just too high.
The home side kept their composure and kept passing, however, and it took a fine blocking tackle by Ashley Cole to prevent Kasper Lorentzen sweeping home a cross. After scoring once, Chelsea threatened to do so again, mainly through Torres, who was twice denied by the goalkeeper. Early in the second half Moses also put the ball past Jesper Hansen from a Torres pass but was adjudged to have fouled Michael Parkhurst before doing so.
The holders needed a second goal to feel more comfortable, as was emphasised when Joshua John came inside Ramires with a low shot just wide, Mikkel Beckmann headed Okore's long cross onto the roof of the net and the captain, Nicolai Stokholm, forced Petr Cech to make a low save. With Chelsea suddenly on the back foot, Cech had to push John's shot on to a post and it was Cole who blocked the follow-up from Beckmann.
That proved to be the worst of it, though. Di Matteo had sent on Hazard for the disappointing Moses but it was from a counter-attack that the relief of a second goal came. Torres, fighting hard for everything, was fouled 20 yards out and Luiz hit a free-kick that Cristiano Ronaldo would have admired, dipping over the wall and brushing a post on its way in. That was in the 79th minute and it was very harsh on the home side to concede twice more, well worked as the goals were. Mata wriggled through for the third, giving him four in three games, and Ramires was neatly set up by Oscar.
"We played a tight game for 75 minutes, then collapsed," said the Danish side's coach Kasper Hjulmand. It was a fair summary.
Man of the match Mata.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee M Strahonja (Croa).
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