Jose Mourinho hasn’t had a lot to smile about lately, but Juan Mata’s display in Romania surely helped improve his mood as Chelsea got their Champions League campaign back on track in convincing fashion.
Mourinho’s demeanour in the build-up to the match had been as dark as the rain clouds that were encamped over Bucharest for the past few days, however this was just the result and performance he would have wanted to lift the gloom.
A brace from Ramires, which sandwiched an own goal by Daniel Georgievski, ensured Chelsea secured their first win in their Champions League group and started putting the Basel defeat of a fortnight ago behind them. There were confident performances all over the pitch, but it was Mata, the man whose relationship with the manager has come under intense scrutiny, that shone most of all.
Mourinho has always prided himself on his man-management skills and when it comes to his No 10, the Chelsea manager certainly seems to know what he’s doing. After weeks of cross examination over why he’s left Mata out on a regular basis, Mourinho explained that his all-round game was worthy of a start in the Romanian capital.
Chelsea looked a different side with him in the team and he was significantly effective at both ends of the pitch, adding work-rate to the finesse he’s already blessed with. In contrast, Mata’s compatriot Fernando Torres, the man who has been the centre of such controversy over the last few days, had another evening to forget.
In many ways, his day was representative of his career since he joined Chelsea from Liverpool for a British record £50m in January 2011. The few sporadic highs have always tended to be swiftly followed by a low.
But this was a crazy few hours even by the Spaniard’s standards. First there was the good news in the afternoon that the Football Association had decided not to hand him an extra punishment for his altercation with Jan Vertonghen at the weekend and he would serve just the one game ban after all.
It must have given the striker, not to mention the moody Mourinho, a welcome lift going into this match they needed to win. However, just 36 seconds he collapsed in agony clutching his knee after working hard to win the ball back from Cristian Tanase and despite attempts to run it off, Samuel Eto’o replaced him soon after.
Some, particularly those from White Hart Lane, may feel justice is done if Torres is now missing for the next few weeks anyway. Crucially though it didn’t upset Chelsea’s rhythm in the early stages and everyone in white looked far more comfortable in possession with Mata out there with them, orchestrating their attacks.
They had already threatened with an André Schürrle shot which was only prevented from going into the net by a desperate block from the Steaua defence, when Chelsea deservedly went in front. Schürrle, who was playing his best game since his £18m summer transfer from Bayer Leverkusen, escaped down the left wing and his cross was defected into Ramires’ path by Eto’o and the Brazilian midfielder neatly touched the ball into the bottom corner.
The presence of Mata wasn’t the only reassuring one at the stadium where they lost 1-0 in the last 16 of the Europa League just six months ago, for captain John Terry was picked alongside David Luiz instead of Gary Cahill.
Terry sat out the Uefa Super Cup Final and the woeful defeat against Basel in the competition a fortnight ago, so it was significant that Mourinho decided to bring him back into European action. The 32-year-old was up against Federico Piovaccari, scorer of seven goals this season, yet the Steaua striker barely caused a threat.
It looked like only some reckless finishing could keep Steaua in the match, but Chelsea added the crucial second just before the break. Unsurprisingly Mata was at the centre of it one again, sending Eto’o through on goal with a typically confident first time pass. Unfortunately for the striker, who is still searching for his first goal in a Chelsea shirt, Ciprian Tatarusanu blocked his effort, but the ball rebounded off Georgievski and into the net.
The only question was whether Chelsea would play in the second half with as much focus and determination as the first and their emphatic answer came just 10 minutes later. A sublime move involving Schürrle and Oscar was finished off at the far post with a fierce shot by Ramires, which prompted even the locals to applaud.
They gasped in awe again moments later when Mata struck the post following a sublime dribble into the area by Oscar, who also hit the woodwork late on.
The home side appeared in awe of their more experienced opponents, although they did threaten with shots from Tanase and Nicolae Stanciu, but then Frank Lampard added to their misery with a typical finish in the last minute. Chelsea’s only disappointment was that Mata’s display wasn’t rewarded with the goal he deserved, but suddenly Chelsea and their manager have reason to be in good spirits once again.
Man of the match Mata.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee C V Carballo (Sp).