Chelsea wrap up Champions League group stages with ease

Sporting Lisbon totally outclassed and consigned to the Europa League by Blues

Chelsea's progress into the knockout phase proved serene to the last. Sporting Lisbon were outclassed here and consigned to the Europa League by a rejigged team eager to flourish in a contest devoid of pressure or tension. José Mourinho had not been disconcerted by that first loss of the campaign at Newcastle last weekend. His players clearly shared his confidence.

This was a stroll from the opening exchanges against opponents who appeared nervy, unconvinced of their chances and gripped by self-doubt from the moment they slipped behind. Only in a brief spell after the interval were the home side even vaguely stretched and, in the end, the only local disappointment stemmed from the fact the teenage debutant, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, was granted a relatively meagre seven minutes on the pitch. This had felt an apt opportunity to blood him for longer and his flurry of fine touches confirmed as much, though, such is his promise, the midfielder’s chance will surely come again.

The hosts' selection had been one to reflect that their qualification was long since secured and with the clutter of the festive schedule in mind, but it still rapidly appeared a lineup against whom Sporting could not compete. The Portuguese had incentives aplenty to glean reward as they nervously awaited news of Schalke's progress in Slovenia, but they were so defensively slack from the outset that they had effectively been rendered reliant upon Maribor while still gasping to adjust to the pace of the tie. Chelsea's lead was established early and reinforced before the interval as fringe players capitalised on a rare opportunity to shine.

Those desperate to impress all made their mark. Mohamed Salah, on his first start outside the Capital One Cup since the final day of last season, darted up and down the left flank to discomfort Ricardo Esgaio. Luís Filipe was upended by the same full-back just inside the area seven minutes in for Cesc Fàbregas to open the scoring from the spot, while André Schürrle, a World Cup winner turned forgotten man, skimmed a fine second on the turn from the edge of the area as Maurício laboured to close him down.


The German needed that reward and might have added a second had Rui Patrício not pushed away his deflected volley. Even defensively, the stand-ins made an impression. Kurt Zouma did well to cut out the lively André Carrillo's centre, while Petr Cech denied the grounded Islam Slimani on the edge of the six-yard box as Sporting desperately sought a route back into the contest. Carrillo alone appeared fuelled with conviction that all was not lost.

The inability of William Carvalho to impose any authority on central midfield, while those across the backline were consistently unsettled by Diego Costa, suggested the majority in the visitors' number were in the right.

At least their huddle in the tunnel before the start of the second half, a desperate gee up, delivered a riposte. Another Carrillo foray down the right stretched the home side's rearguard, Schürrle only able to clear the Peruvian's delivery to the edge of the area where Jonathan Silva conjured a volley which nestled in the corner. Yet their hope was short-lived. Fàbregas's free-kick six minutes later was flicked on by Gary Cahill and Mikel John Obi tapped in a first Champions League goal from virtually on the goalline. Confirmation that Max Meyer had opened the scoring for Schalke in Slovenia promptly flashed up on the big screens to compound the visitors' misery.

Loftus-Cheek’s summons from his prolonged warm-up in front of the East Stand came as the contest edged into its 81st minute, the youngster eagerly springing down the touchline to gain instruction before flinging his bib away and offering those at his back a wink which smacked of the conviction that he belonged. His cameo was impressive. The crowd had needed his introduction to pep the mood, the game having started to drift with Sporting beaten and wearing the look of the condemned as they prayed for Maribor to restore parity.

Slimani had drawn a smart save from Cech at his post while Nemanja Matic blocked from Adrien Silva but, in truth, it was Chelsea who retained the greater cohesion and attacking threat. Salah had been denied by Rui Patrício at full stretch and, once the Egyptian had departed, the slippery Loïc Rémy ripped into Esgaio with just as much enthusiasm. This is a squad capable of making an impression on this competition while retaining progress back in the Premier League. Those rivals in Monday's draw will be wary of their quality.

Guardian Service