Chelsea claim victory but sloppy habits still persist against Steaua Bucharest
Flashes of anxiety in Chelsea’s rejigged back-line when visitors attacked
Chelsea’s Demba Ba (right) has a shot stopped by Steaua Bucurest goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu as Pantelis Kapetanos attempts a challenge during the Champions League Group E match at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have claimed this section and will return to domestic distractions with a victory to pep bruised confidence, even if edging out Steaua Bucharest did little to suggest Jose Mourinho’s pre-match assessment that his team should not be considered contenders for this competition was misplaced. This was a humdrum occasion and, at times, a rather sloppy display.
There was little to illuminate the contest, despite one fan’s efforts with a laser pen from high up in the east stand. Stewards were sent to identify the culprit, the green dot having been fixed on Mourinho to Oscar, Eden Hazard to Willian, with a warning issued on the public address system.
The hosts had considered this a chance to make amends. The weekend loss at the Britannia stadium, coupled with the trio of goals shipped to Sunderland last week, had undermined encouraging form, and Mourinho had demanded improvement. Those sentiments had been reflected in the captain’s programme notes. “Saturday’s result was not good enough,” said John Terry. “Now we have to react in the right way.”
Chelsea’s initial urgency had exposed Bucharest’s vulnerability, the lead gleaned early and the suspicion fuelled that a rout awaited if the hosts’ creative talents could find their range in front of goal. Steaua found the bursts from midfield summoned by Oscar, Hazard and Willian irresistible.
Yet there were still flashes of anxiety that gripped Chelsea’s back-line when the visitors generated forward momentum. Ashley Cole and David Luiz were featuring for their club for the first time since November 2nd, with Mark Schwarzer the oldest ever Champions League debutant at 41, but the rejigged and rusty back-line strained to stay secure at times.
They should have been pierced just before the quarter-hour mark, Gabriel Iancu scuttling beyond Terry and on to Daniel Georgievski’s slipped pass to gain a clear sight of goal, only to drag his shot wide of the far post.
At least Chelsea already led by then, with their fifth chance of the opening 10 minutes having yielded reward. Oscar, Frank Lampard and David Luiz, twice, had gone close when Willian’s corner was flicked on by Oscar as he darted towards the near post. The touch wrong-footed Steaua’s defenders and Georgievski, with Demba Ba challenging at his back, sliced the ball beyond Ciprian Tatarusanu from close range. Uefa awarded the goal to the Senegalese even though Georgievski appeared to offer the clearest touch. The full-back had scored a more humiliating own goal in Bucharest earlier in the section.
Others should have added to their tally before the break, Branislav Ivanovic drawing a fine point-blank save from Tatarusanu as he flicked on Hazard’s delivery, yet sloppiness had rather crept in and was retained thereafter. Quite how Ba managed to scoop over Willian’s low centre from just inside the six-yard box remains a mystery, the striker’s attempt flying into the Matthew Harding stand’s lower tier.
In truth, the occasion was low key, a reflection of the scenario in the group, with Mourinho’s frown in the dug-out betraying the sporadic nature of the quality on show. That inability to kill off opponents is infuriating the management.
The sight of Hazard nodding over an open goal after substitute Andre Schurrle had cut in from the left rather summed it all up. The German tore into the hapless Georgievski again over the latter stages, but there was to be no further reward. Ba had a goal rightly disallowed for offside, but that was the closest they came.