Friday 23 March 2018

Mourinho sees funny side as laboured Blues do the bare minimum

Chelsea 1 Steaua 0

Mourinho saw the funny side of his team's lacklustre performance
Mourinho saw the funny side of his team's lacklustre performance

Matt Law

It may not have been particularly pretty or impressive, but Chelsea qualified last night for the Champions League knock-out stages as winners of Group E.

Having lost home and away against Basel, Chelsea produced the bare minimum to top a group that really should have been far more comfortably won.

This game against Steaua Bucharest, who had already been confirmed as finishing bottom of the group, was not as easy as Chelsea might have liked, either.

At least a striker was on the scoresheet, as Demba Ba netted the winning goal though he also amused manager Jose Mourinho and most of the Stamford Bridge crowd by missing the easiest of chances.

Mourinho made seven changes from the side that was beaten by Stoke City in the Premier League, the most eye-catching of which was the inclusion of goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. The 41-year-old was handed a Champions League debut, having made just two previous appearances for the Blues.

Ashley Cole returned at left-back, David Luiz took over from Gary Cahill in the centre of defence and Ba was handed a start up front.

Luiz volleyed an early chance wide from Willian's corner and Oscar, back from an ankle injury, was just off-target with a powerful shot. There was confusion over who exactly gave Chelsea the lead, with Ba, then Daniel Georgievski and Ba again being credited with the 10th-minute goal.

Another Willian corner was headed on by Oscar and the ball looked to have been bundled into the net by Ba, who was named as the goalscorer by the Stamford Bridge stadium announcer. The scoreboard showed Georgievski as netting an own-goal, but Ba celebrated nonetheless -- perhaps hoping Mourinho would be convinced that one of his forwards had hit the back of the net. Uefa was convinced, as the name of the opening goalscorer changed to Ba shortly before half-time.

Mourinho has been frustrated by the inability of his strikers to take their chances. Samuel Eto'o, who is already eyeing a summer move to the MLS, was not even included among the substitutes.

The defence has also been a cause for concern, with Mourinho joking he has been fearful to put Terry and Co up against the training ground dummies.

It was the Chelsea backline who appeared statuesque in the 13th caught out by a long ball through the middle but Gabriel Iancu dragged the ball wide with just Schwarzer to beat.

Cole had not started a Chelsea game since the beginning of November and it showed during the early stages as he displayed a couple of heavy touches and wastefully ran the ball out of play.

Mourinho was off his bench to have a word with both Cole and Terry to try to inspire some cohesion on the left.

Despite the fact his team were winning, Mourinho's assessment that Chelsea should not be considered among the favourites to win the Champions League looked accurate.

There was a positive moment just before the half-hour, as Eden Hazard produced a good cross that picked out Branislav Ivanovic but Steaua keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu made a wonderful save. Frank Lampard produced a trademark 25-yard effort that sailed over the crossbar, as Chelsea struggled to create clear-cut opportunities against their Romanian opponents.

Mourinho sent his substitutes out to warm up, with the performance of the Blues still failing to provide much relief from the cold conditions. When Ba blazed a Willian cross over the bar from six yards out, Mourinho simply turned to his bench and laughed.

Chelsea's defenders were as unconvincing as Ba, failing to clear the ball before Steaua captain Mihai Pintilii shot wide of Schwarzer's goal.

It was no surprise when Mourinho decided to make a change with just over 20 minutes remaining and protect Oscar with Saturday's game against Crystal Palace in mind. Andre Schurrle, who scored twice at Stoke, replaced the Brazilian.

Schurrle made an immediate impact, dancing around Georgievski in the area.

Tatarusanu kept out the German's shot from a tight angle and Hazard headed over the bar.

Ba side-footed wide in the closing stages and also saw a goal correctly ruled out for offside. It mattered not, but Chelsea will be praying for a favourable draw in the last 16. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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