Top of the Premier League, unbeaten in all competitions and safely into the knockout stages of the Champions League as Group G winners. Chelsea continue to make light work of what has been such a difficult season for so many of their rivals.
The bad news for Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Europe’s best teams is that Chelsea are getting better.
The only ray of hope might be that top scorer Diego Costa was forced off with another injury in the thrashing of Schalke, although his replacement Didier Drogba scored one goal and set up another.
Jose Mourinho’s team were superb in the first half of their Premier League victory over West Bromwich Albion and they were even better against Schalke and their old player and manager Roberto Di Matteo.
From taking the lead in just the second minute, Chelsea completely outplayed their German opponents, with Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Eden Hazard all at their best.
Fabregas was particularly impressive from the middle of the park and had a hand in all three of Chelsea’s first-half goals. The fact Arsene Wenger did not want him back at Arsenal may well constitute a sackable offence in itself.
Clearly wanting to wrap up qualification from Group G before a busy December, Mourinho unsurprisingly fielded his strongest side and was richly rewarded.
Costa was put through on goal by Oscar in the opening 90 seconds, but Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann made a good save. From the resulting corner, Chelsea took the lead as a Fabregas delivery was headed into the net by captain John Terry.
The visitors should have given themselves a two-goal cushion just three minutes later, as another Fabregas corner fell invitingly to Branislav Ivanovic but the defender volleyed wastefully over the crossbar. Chelsea were cutting though their opponents with ease and Costa caused more problems for the Schalke defence but could not pick out a team-mate after charging into the penalty area.
The second goal was not long in coming, as Willian combined superbly with Eden Hazard to extend Chelsea’s lead just before the half-hour mark.
Fabregas passed to Willian, who flicked the ball to Hazard and he played it straight into the path of the Brazilian who beat Fahrmann with a low shot.
Fahrmann may well be disappointed he did not keep Willian’s effort out, but the goal was a joy from a Chelsea perspective.
Costa seemed certain to add his name to the scoresheet when he rounded Fahrmann, who had rushed from his goal, but the striker slipped at the vital moment and was closed down.
Fabregas then found Oscar with a wonderful ball over the top of the defence and the midfielder’s volley was palmed out by Fahrmann.
The Spaniard took the corner and Jan Kirchoff comically headed into his own net effectively to hand Chelsea their passage into the knockout stages.
The only scare Mourinho’s men had suffered in the first half was when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s shot from 25 yards deflected off Gary Cahill and looped over Thibaut Courtois, but the ball rebounded back to safety off the crossbar.
Despite spending the majority of the opening period clapping the performance of the current Chelsea stars, the travelling supporters did not forget Di Matteo. The Italian was Chelsea’s man for the big occasion as both a player and a manager.
As caretaker manager, Di Matteo won the FA Cup and, most famously, the Champions League with a penalty shoot-out victory over Bayern Munich. He was sacked six months later, despite being handed a two-year permanent contract, and was harshly airbrushed from Chelsea’s Champions League history as the club replaced his image on a wall at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea fans have been far more appreciative of Di Matteo’s contribution to the club and applauded in the 16th minute of matches following his dismissal to mark his old shirt number.
The supporters in Gelsenkirchen continued that tradition by singing “One Di Matteo” in the 16th minute and received a wave of acknowledgement from the 44-year-old.
Di Matteo’s night went from bad to worse after the break and Chelsea almost scored another brilliant goal with an hour gone. Willian linked up well with Hazard again and drilled in a cross that Ivanovic volleyed wide.
Shortly afterwards, Costa looked uncomfortable when he tried to beat Fahrmann from close range and appeared to signal to the bench that he needed to come off.
Mourinho responded by sending on Drogba and Costa walked straight down the tunnel for treatment.
Drogba tapped in a fourth goal in the 76th minute and then turned creator moments later for another substitute, Ramires, to head in a fifth. It all seems a little bit too easy for Mourinho and his men right now. © Daily Telegraph, London