Monday 19 February 2018

Bitter sweet for Torres as Blues stutter on despite spot-kick miss

Chelsea 3 Steaua Bucharest 1 (Chelsea win 3-2 on agg)

Henry Winter

Fernando Torres guided Chelsea into the quarter-finals of the Europa League with the key third goal, but then missed a penalty. Just when Torres looks a confident predator again, he slips back.

On a night of eventual celebrations for Chelsea, this was frustrating for Torres. The Spaniard so needs the sort of belief that a second goal might have given him but at least he can reflect that his earlier, cooler finish had proved so important for Chelsea, who go into the draw after a performance that was less than convincing. From the start, this had been a tense, nervy night. Trailing by a goal from the first leg, Chelsea had immediately launched themselves into the Romanians.

Pushing for a goal which arrived after 34 minutes, Chelsea were occasionally exposed on the counter. Steaua felt some vulnerability in the hosts. John Obi Mikel was caught in possession, allowing the visitors' striker Raul Rusescu to get ahead of the slow-reacting John Terry.

As so often down the years, Petr Cech rescued Chelsea. Terry made amends for his mistake with a strong clearing header from Alexandru Bourceanu's corner.

After 34 minutes. David Luiz won the ball in midfield and Juan Mata ghosted forward, soon finding Ramires and continuing into the box. The Brazilian completed the exchange, and Mata scored with a shot that clipped Ciprian Tatarusanu and crept in off the post.

Yet Chelsea were so disorganised at a Steaua corner in the 45th minute. When Iasmin Latovevici swung across the ball, Chelsea froze. Petr Cech saved Cristian Tanase's shot. Vlad Chiriches was quickest to the loose ball, slamming it into the roof of the net.

The Romanians celebrated their away goal wildly, knowing that Chelsea needed two. Chelsea scored one of them 13 minutes into the second half. Mata's free-kick was aimed perfectly for the run of Terry, who was unmarked and headed unerringly past Tatarusanu.

Chelsea fans made it abundantly clear the depth of their admiration for their captain. Steaua's captain, Bourceanu, was living dangerously, seemingly on a mission to clatter Mata. Steaua's No 55 first caught Mata with a cynical challenge from behind, clearly designed to stop the Spaniard's progress. Bourceanu was cautioned and was then fortunate that the referee, Stephane Lannoy, failed to notice a subsequent hack at Mata.

Chelsea still required a goal. Their fans tried to lift them but there were still scares.

Alexandru Chipciu's shot suddenly came flying at Cech when Luiz ducked.

Chelsea's 'keeper still pushed the ball away, albeit less than gracefully. They then got the goal they craved. Mata played the creator, teasing the ball to Hazard on the edge of the area, who tricked Steaua's defence. The ball continued to Torres, who struck his 17th of the season with a low shot from left to right past Tatarusanu. Torres now looked a different player now. He really troubled Steaua's defenders who gathered in numbers to close him down.

Chelsea should have prevented any enduring nerves four minutes left. Hazard was clearly fouled by Bourceanu, who somehow stayed on. Torres demanded the ball as Lannoy pointed to the spot.

He took a long run-up to the penalty, looking confident but his penalty hit the bar and whistled over into the Matthew Harding Stand. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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