Thursday 14 December 2017

Last-gasp Moses miracle downs Shakhtar to put Chelsea on clear path to promised land

Chelsea 3 Shakhtar 2
Champions League Group E

Henry Winter

Chelsea were outclassed. They were outplayed but they were never outfought. Showing the fortitude of champions, the holders never stopped believing, never stopped fighting to the end of this exceptional game, scoring the winner through Victor Moses in the fourth minute of injury-time.

The goal was created by Juan Mata, swinging over a corner that the unmarked Moses headed unerringly home as Stamford Bridge rocked with relief and delight and the song 'We're champions of Europe, we know what we are'. The sort of resilience that characterised their success last season was seen again last night.

As Moses walked off at the final whistle, a beaming Roberto di Matteo tapped him on the head in appreciation. The manager knew how much of a huge moment that was, how significant a goal that was.

Everyone at the Bridge sensed it. Moses had made Chelsea's November 20 trip to Juventus less of a trouble-strewn path. Nordsjaellend then visit the Bridge on December 5.

Group E is still a closely contested affair but Moses opened up a view of the knockout stage at the end of one of the most exciting European ties of recent years at the Bridge.

Those claiming that the group stage of the Champions League is a collection of stale encounters or boring mismatches will not have had their argument advanced here. This was compelling fare. Fernandinho, Shakhtar's No 7, was majestic, the Brazilian gliding across the pitch, creating havoc in elegant fashion. Willian was a feline, predatory presence. Oscar also excelled.

The first half had exploded into life. The teams swapped free-kicks, first Yaroslav Rakitskiy testing Petr Cech and then David Luiz almost beating Andriy Pyatov, Shakhtar's unconvincing goalkeeper.

Pyatov was soon exposed, his short goal-kick after six minutes placing his defence under pressure. Rakitskiy played the ball back to his 'keeper, who panicked, belting the ball straight at Torres.

Chelsea's No 9 had gambled on Pyatov doing something crazy, running in and leaping up, hoping to charge down the clearance. The ball crashed into Torres and flew straight back in past the embarrassed Pyatov.

Torres has scored more emphatic strikes in his career but this was reward for his perseverance.

But Shakhtar, such formidable opponents, hit back. When Ramires slipped, the Ukrainians raced through the gears in that smooth way of theirs.

Fernandinho cut deep into the Chelsea box as the Matthew Harding End looked on in horror at the defensive chaos in front of them. Fernandinho cut the ball back. Willian did the rest from 12 yards. Inevitable.

This was thrilling fare, Chelsea regaining the lead in spectacular fashion five minutes from the break. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard linked up down the left, Mata soon curling a ball behind Shakhtar's defence in an attempt to release Torres. Pyatov spotted the danger, rushing out to head clear.

However admirable his anticipation, Pyatov should have directed his clearance to one side, not straight down the middle. Oscar, all technique and vision, controlled the ball and then propelled it over Pyatov from 40 yards.

Concerns remained over Ryan Bertrand being exposed at left-back, particularly with Hazard not tracking back enough. Two minutes into the second period, Bertrand was again struggling to deal with the swift incursions of the visitors. Fernandinho swept the ball right, Darijo Srna crossed and there was Willian pouncing again.

Di Matteo sought to inject more energy and ideas into his attack. The tiring Oscar was withdrawn with 10 minutes remaining, being replaced by Moses.

As the game inched into injury-time, Chelsea endured some nervous moments, defending desperately at times.

Shakhtar sub Ilsinho worried Luiz and Co. Willian kept dribbling through.

But then came another corner from Mata. Then came Moses, following the ball's flight and heading in and sending the Chelsea fans into joyous celebrations. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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