Chelsea make light work of Schalke
No respite for former manager Roberto Di Matteo as Blues unstoppable in Gelsenkirchen
Chelseas Willian (centre) celebrates with Cesar Azpilicueta (top) and Branislav Ivanovic (left) after scoring the second against Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen. Photograph: Bernd Thissen / EPA
Chelsea’s Didier Drogba (right) scores a against Schalke 04 during their Champions League group G match in Gelsenkirchen. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters
Roberto di Matteo had been right to suppose sentimentality would go ignored against the team he had guided to Champions League success two years ago. All that awaited him here was cruel humiliation. While those travelling fans chorused the Italian’s name from afar, he could only watch aghast as his Schalke side was put to the sword with the same ruthless efficiency that has typified José Mourinho’s side of late. Chelsea appear unstoppable.
This swashbuckling win secured first place in Group G and passage into the knockout phase in the new year, but it also sent a powerful message to the other contenders for the trophy. Chelsea are now unbeaten in 19 games this season, and 21 stretching back to last April. When they click, as is fast becoming the norm, they are untouchable. The final game of the section, at home to Sporting Lisbon while others home and abroad fret over their destiny, has become an opportunity to rest legs ahead of the Christmas clutter.
Mourinho had appeared rather annoyed by the sub-plot in the build-up to this match. This was no time to serenade Di Matteo’s achievement, with a job to be done in Gelsenkirchen. The visiting manager had waited alone at the mouth of the tunnel for his opposite number prior to kick-off, cutting a rather uncomfortable figure as players and mascots filed past him, with the Italian the last of Schalke’s coaching staff to emerge. The brief clap of hands did not suggest much warmth.
Yet his team would have had the Portuguese glowing. There is such a swagger to Chelsea at present that few opponents can hope to contain their threat. There is strength and physical presence, skill and creativity, lightening pace and a streetwise edge if required.
They scored three before the interval, as if illustrating the extremes of their capabilities: two headers from set plays, the second inexplicably converted into his own net by Jan Kirchhoff, and in between an intricate team move that Barcelona in their pomp might have cherished. Their advantage at the break should arguably have been more emphatic but, even by then, the biggest threat to their dominance appeared to be complacency.
The set pieces were each delivered by Cesc Fábregas, who dictated the visitors’ rhythm alongside the leggy and dominant Nemanja Matic in central midfield. John Terry rose above Benedikt Höwedes to convert the first after 86 seconds, Chelsea’s fastest Champions League goal. It was rough justice for Ralf Fährmann whose excellent save from Diego Costa in the first minute had deserved better.
Thereafter the goalkeeper’s display rather disintegrated. It was the Spain midfielder’s wicked delivery again on the stroke of half-time which saw a panicked Kirchhoff head the ball beyond static teammates and into the corner. The home support had already resorted to booing their own by then, so dismayed had they been at the team’s inferiority – even if the visitors’ second had actually provoked some appreciative applause.
That was a move sparked inside their own half, all intricate passes and clever movement with at least 24 touches by-passing flustered opponents before Willian spied space to collect and dispatch a low shot inside Fährmann’s near-post. The goalkeeper should have done better with the finish, but Schalke’s players had all been left dizzied and disorientated as those in yellow poured at them. Di Matteo winced at the brutality of it all. This had long felt a mismatch.
Mourinho’s team had won here 3-0 in last season’s group stage, but their authority was more clear-cut this time around. Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar, fed by a delicious Fábregas clip, should have converted from unmarked positions while Costa, bullying centre-halves with glee until offered a breather, lost his footing after chasing down a weak back-pass and rounding Fährmann.
Schalke had barely offered a coherent passing move of their own, their one clear sight of goal in the first half culminating in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s optimistic shot looping up from Gary Cahill’s ankle and onto the crossbar. Even then, Terry stole in to head bravely clear.
Thereafter, with Schalke engaged in their rather forlorn and hopeless game of catch-up, the visitors could aspire to prosper on the counter-attack. The poise in their passing – even from inside their own penalty area when nominally under pressure – took the breath away at times. Ivanovic was forever able to bustle down his flank and contribute in the attacking third, with Oscar and Fábregas dovetailing cleverly in the centre, and all-comers joining attacks on the break whenever the Germans thrust forward. This team’s industry establishes the platform from which they steamroller opponents.
Schalke were downtrodden by the time Chelsea roused themselves for more late goalscoring. Fábregas’s diagonal pass was all it took to liberate Willian, who squared for the substitute Didier Drogba to tap in his 50th European goal. Within seconds Drogba was crossing for another replacement, Ramires, to head into a gaping net and the thrashing was complete.