Sixteen minutes into this match, the Chelsea fans broke into a chant of ‘There’s only one Di Matteo’, in honour of the man who wore No 16 with distinction in their midfield, then coached the club to its 2012 Champions League triumph.
The chant, which seemed to have been retired since Jose Mourinho replaced Roberto Di Matteo’s successor, Rafa Benitez, as Chelsea manager, was the Italian’s only good moment of a dreadful night.
Even then, any happiness will have been tempered as the Schalke team he now coaches were 1-0 down to Chelsea and looking in danger of being overwhelmed. Chelsea, who had taken the lead in the second minute through John Terry, settled for five goals. With the others scored by Willian, Didier Drogba, Ramires and an own goal, their only disappointment was that Diego Costa failed to break his Champions League duck for the club.
Goals, though, will surely come given his ability and the number of chances Chelsea are currently creating. Costa may, though, have to wait until the knockout matches in the spring as there is no need to play him against Sporting next month, as this win secured Chelsea top spot in group G.
It also underlined their status as the only English side capable of preventing Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich winning the competition this season.
Mourinho, eager to ease the pressure of fixtures next month by qualifying for the last 16 early, selected his strongest side, unchanged one from the team that extended their unbeaten start to the season to 18 games by beating West Brom on Saturday.
The only survivor from the Chelsea XI that started the Champions League final under Di Matteo was Gary Cahill (though, but for suspension, Terry and Branislav Ivanovic would have played in Munich).
Mourinho was reluctant to talk about Di Matteo’s ‘history’ with Chelsea before the match, but he has history of his own at this ground. The Aufshalke Arena was where he won his first Champions League, masterminding Porto’s 3-0 win. He has been back since, most recently last season when Chelsea cruised to a 3-0 win.
Within two minutes, this tie seemed destined to go the same way as Chelsea swept into the lead. With right-back Atsuto Uchida caught upfield, Chelsea counter-attacked through Oscar who released Costa. He broke forward, cut inside his marker, and brought a fine, low save from Ralf Fährmann.
Chelsea were not to be denied for long, though, as the resulting corner was delivered by Cesc Fabregas onto the brow of Terry, who headed powerfully home. At 86 seconds, it was Chelsea’s fastest Champions League goal.
It was also the perfect riposte from his team for the embarrassment Mourinho endured before kick-off. Doubtless seeking to make a point – as there is little he does unplanned – he perched at the top of the tunnel in full view of the banks of photographers to wait for Di Matteo. The players came past, the mascots came past, the various staff came out, the mascots came back. Mourinho waited, and waited. Finally Di Matteo emerged, the pair exchanged the most perfunctory of handshakes and Mourinho stalked off to the bench. On the pitch, it was Di Matteo’s team being embarrassed.
Branislav Ivanovic and Costa both had opportunities to double Chelsea’s lead before, in a rare spell of possession, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting chanced a shot that looped up off Cahill and onto the bar. It was a freak effort, but enough to bring Mourinho to his feet berating his team, pulling Oscar and Fabregas aside for instructions.
They clearly paid heed and in the 29th minute, Chelsea conjured a beautiful goal. A series of swift passes involving several players ended with Willian driving a low shot straight through Fährmann.
If the goalkeeper was unhappy with that, his hapless defenders were faring no better. Having earlier rescued a poor back-pass by Benedikt Höwedes, Fährmann had to come flying from his goal again as Marco Höge left another pass short. Costa got there first but stumbled as he went past the keeper, possibly clipped by Fährmann. To the Spanish international’s credit, he kept his feet but by the time he had the ball under control, Schalke were able to clear.
Once again, the reprieve was brief. Two minutes before the break, Fährmann saved again from Costa but Jan Kirchoff, under no real pressure, headed Fabregas’ corner into his own net. Unsurprisingly, the half-time whistle was greeted with boos by the home support.
Chelsea were content to sit back in the second period, conserve energy and look to hit Schalke on the break. Costa, Willian and Oscar all had chances but improved defending – and some poor judgement in possession – meant Schalke survived further punishment until the 76th minute. Then Schalke’s high line was caught out again this time by a Fabregas pass to Willian. The Brazilian drew Fährmann before squaring for Drogba – the hero of 2012 – to tap in. Then, little over a minute later, Drogba turned provider, chipping a cross over Fährmann that Ramires headed in at the far post.
André Schürrle and Edin Hazard could have added a sixth in the closing stages but Chelsea fans did not appear to mind their failure to do so, perhaps they felt Di Matteo had suffered enough.
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