Eto steals the show as Chelsea edge towards knockout place
SAMUEL Eto'o scored twice as Chelsea took another step towards a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 3-0 victory over Schalke in Group E.
In the absence of leg injury victim Fernando Torres, who scored twice in the 3-0 win in Gelsenkirchen two weeks ago, Eto'o stepped up as the 2012 European Champions moved on to nine points, three clear of nearest rivals Schalke in the standings with two games to play.
Responding to Saturday's loss at Newcastle which ended a six-match winning run, Jose Mourinho made six changes as Chelsea returned to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League for the first time since September's loss to Basle, when they relinquished their near-10-year, 29-match unbeaten home run in the group stages of Europe's elite competition.
Since that defeat, the Blues had won at Steaua Bucharest and Schalke as part of a run which Mourinho felt might have led to complacency at St James' Park.
The Portuguese demanded a proactive approach, but it was Schalke who started the better before Chelsea got a lucky break after 31 minutes.
Eto'o, who dispossessed Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall as he bounced the ball last month to set up Eden Hazard, ran at Timo Hildebrand as the Schalke stopper prepared to fire downfield. Instead Hildebrand kicked it against the striker and saw the ball go into his own net.
There was nothing lucky about the second as Eto'o, previously a Champions League winner with Barcelona and Mourinho's Inter Milan, converted clinically.
Eto'o likes playing against Schalke - he scored his first Champions League goal against the Germans, for Real Mallorca - but there was to be no hat-trick as Demba Ba replaced him 13 minutes from time before striking his first goal of the season to seal victory.
The Blues, who play West Brom on Saturday, suffered the ignominy of becoming the first holders to exit the Champions League at the group stage last term, but now face Basle away and Steaua at home with one foot in the next round.
Mourinho insisted the changes were not a result of the performance at Newcastle, after which he was critical of his players' attitude, yet it was hard to reason otherwise as out went Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, David Luiz, Juan Mata and Hazard, who was not even on the bench.
Cesar Azpilicueta, John Obi Mikel, Gary Cahill, Willian and Andre Schurrle came in, while Eto'o replaced Torres up front.
Azpilicueta was at left-back in Germany and again he was on his wrong flank, with Ryan Bertrand joining Torres on the injured list.
The onus was on Chelsea, Cahill said prior to the match, yet it was Schalke who took the early initiative.
Julian Draxler and Adam Szalai dragged shots wide across goal in the opening six minutes.
Then Mikel gave the ball away to Draxler, who found Christian Fuchs on the left and he shot off target.
It took until the 20th minute for Chelsea to register a meaningful shot on goal, when Hildebrand saved a Schurrle free-kick from 25 yards out.
Schurrle then curled narrowly wide after being found by Willian's cross-field pass.
Chelsea got a freak break when Eto'o charged at Hildebrand, who was attempting a regulation clearance but could only hit the striker and watch as the ball roll into the net. It was Eto'o's second Chelsea goal following his first against Cardiff, while Hildebrand was the focus of the home fans' taunts thereafter.
Chelsea were indebted to Petr Cech for staying level seven minutes into the second half after Jermaine Jones found Draxler, who cut in from the right on to his left foot.
His shot appeared destined for the bottom corner, only for Cech to turn the ball around the post.
Soon after, Chelsea struck for a second time. Oscar found Willian, who ran at the heart of the Schalke defence and fed Eto'o, who finished across goal with a strike Hildebrand could do nothing about.
Hildebrand saved low to his right to deny Schurrle as Chelsea, buoyed by their advantage, appeared to be more in control, yet short of their fluent best.
Ba replaced Eto'o, Kevin De Bruyne came on for Schurrle and Lampard was introduced for Oscar.
Ba shot weakly when played in by Ramires, but made amends when found by a lofted Lampard pass after Willian had won the ball.
The Senegal striker stepped backwards and swept in beyond Hildebrand for Chelsea's third.
Chelsea strikers were less than prolific early in the season, but now they have scored six times against Schalke in two games.