Sporting Lisbon vs Chelsea match report: Nemanja Matic scores only goal of the game as Blues weather late storm to earn three points

Sporting Lisbon 0 Chelsea 1

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The Independent Online

Jose Mourinho said last week that his Chelsea side are “far from being a perfect team” but they are obviously moving in the right direction, after producing a near-perfect away performance to win in Lisbon and go top of Group G.

The balance, maturity and imagination of this Champions League display at a raucous Estadio Jose Alvalade were all impressive, with just one flaw: wasteful finishing. The 1-0 scoreline was desperately unflattering. They ought to have won by four or five.

Chelsea shredded a lively but reckless Sporting team with quick, incisive counter-attacking football and Andre Schurrle could have scored a hat-trick before Nemanja Matic headed in Cesc Fabregas’ free-kick 10 minutes before the break.

Diego Costa played all 90 minutes, despite Mourinho admitting his inclusion was a “risk”, but he was excellent, holding the ball up, imposing himself on the game, and terrifying defenders. On another day he might have had his ninth, tenth and eleventh goals of the season, but he never appeared constrained by his troublesome hamstring and he certainly looked like a man looking forward to Sunday afternoon’s appointment with Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s problems this season have largely been at the other end but they were solid and disciplined here, keeping just their third clean sheet of the season. Sporting play enjoyable attacking football, and have the brilliant Nani on the wing, yet their best chances, even amid late pressure, were all from distance. John Terry and Gary Cahill had comfortable evenings while Matic – who knows Lisbon very well – was excellent with and without the ball in midfield.

With Schalke and Maribor drawing in Germany, Chelsea are now top after two games, with two matches against the Slovenian side coming up in which they can ensure passage into next year’s knock-out phases. Both of Mourinho’s other Champions League triumphs came in the second season of a spell, and this side will surely be contenders for the European Cup in 2015.

The gulf in experience, of players and coaches, was the story of the evening. While Chelsea kept their shape and waited for opportunities, Sporting – back in the competition after five years out – played with almost childish over-enthusiasm. Everyone likes expansive football but Sporting were expanded far too far, with their full-backs pushed up, their centre-backs split and huge spaces on this big pitch for Chelsea’s fast players- Schurrle, Eden Hazard and Costa – to break into.

It was clear by the second minute of the match that Chelsea would not exactly have to probe and tease in order to make chances here. In their very first attack, Oscar simply rolled the ball forwards to Diego Costa who was in on goal, storming through the Sporting back-line that was recklessly high and open wide. Costa’s hamstrings did not seem to impede him but when he reached the goal, he could only shoot at Rui Patricio.

The Portgual goalkeeper was a busy man as his team-mates continued to invite Chelsea to break into their open spaces. Andre Schurrle, preferred to Willian on the right wing, was the most dangerous player, driving through the vast gap between left-back Jonathan Silva and centre-back Naby Sarr, but never quite able to convert his chances.Jose-Mourinho.jpg

First Schurrle exchanged passes with Oscar and shot from a tight angle, forcing Patricio into a diving save. Then Schurrle robbed Sarr, started a counter-attack which ended in his heading Eden Hazard’s cross at Patricio. Then Schurrle had another shot saved from the edge of the box. The best chance of all came soon after that, Sarr slipping and Schurrle running free again, meeting Hazard’s precise low cross only to shoot carelessly wide of goal.

If Chelsea worried at that point that their chance was gone, they need not have done. After two brisk Sporting counter-attacks which came to nothing, Chelsea took the lead with a goal of surprising simplicity. Chelsea had a free-kick on the left after Hazard was fouled. Cesc Fabregas floated it over the far post where Nemanja Matic peeled away and looped a header over Patricio and into the net.

It would have been a minor miracle had Sporting been level at the break and while they felt they should have had a penalty when Adrien Silva’s shot hit Gary Cahill near his shoulder, it was a weak case. Chelsea’s only regret was that their half-time lead was just one.

If some of Sporting’s defenders looked cowed by the occasion, Nani did not. He came out for the second half desperate to punish Chelsea for their early profligacy. With Sporting’s first attack after the re-start, he stormed down the left, cut back inside and flicked the ball behind him to an overlapping run that never came.

Soon after, Nani made the same run but took on Branislav Ivanovic instead and was brought down on the edge of the box, only for Mateu Lahoz to wave play on. Sporting’s next attack ended with Nani shooting into the side netting from a tight angle.

But for all their vigour, Sporting were still just as open at the back. Oscar was next to run through on goal, denied again by the advancing Patricio. Then it was Costa, charging through the middle, and Sporting centre-back Mauricio injured himself committing a foul so cynical he might have been dismissed for it anyway. The further Sporting pushed up in pursuit of an equaliser, the more dangerous Costa was on the break. Chelsea could just launch the ball up towards him, confident he would beat every other defender to it and win possession.

Hoping to close up a game that might have felt slightly too open, Mourinho withdrew Oscar for Jon Obi Mikel. In Mikel and Matic he had a physical screen to block Sporting’s counter-attacks, while Costa continued to be dangerous up front. He hit one shot into the side netting, and overran a perfect Matic pass as Chelsea pushed for a second goal they did not eventually need, despite Sporting pressure which produced a few shots if not tooi many chances.

There were chances on offer for anyone who ran forward and Filipe Luis – advancing from left-back – should have scored, as should late substitute Mohamed Salah. But Patricio stood strong to complete a performance which earned him a warm embrace from Mourinho at the end. Mourinho might have wanted a few more goals, but will otherwise be pleased.

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