Sunday 18 March 2018

Blues find form to ease pressure on Mourinho

Chelsea 4 Maccabi Tel Aviv 0

Chelsea’s Diego Costa finds the net despite being under pressure from Yuval Shpungin
of Maccabi Tel Aviv
Chelsea’s Diego Costa finds the net despite being under pressure from Yuval Shpungin of Maccabi Tel Aviv

Jason Burt

Jose Mourinho had the look of a man prepared to fan the flames - and how he will hope that with this victory Chelsea's season is finally about to catch fire.

If anyone was in any doubt that Mourinho was feeling the pressure then they only had to study his reactions on the touchline. He was brooding; smouldering; a keg about to explode if this did not go right.

The tension was palpable as the Chelsea manager urged his team on, howled at every perceived injustice - and celebrated each goal intensely; and this for the opening tie against the weakest opposition in their group.


Mourinho attacked it as if it was much more than that. Chelsea won with an uncomplicated simplicity that tees them up for Arsenal this weekend, Arsene Wenger's side having played in Croatia with 10 men for much of their night.

Mourinho will have liked that - Chelsea were also the only English team to win in the Champions League this week - but it was not until the fourth goal was struck that he took to his seat and, at last, showed a flicker of satisfaction.

The changes were made. Four big beasts were taken out of the starting XI - John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa, although the latter was required to replace Willian, who departed with a damaged hamstring midway through the first half.

The public rationale for the omissions will be that Chelsea have Arsenal to face, here, on Saturday lunchtime but this was a must-win Champions League encounter and Mourinho had to do something to jolt his players into action.

None of the omitted quartet have performed well so far this season. But they were not alone. Maybe the hope was that Cesc Fabregas would play himself into form against weaker opposition but this meant a lot to Maccabi, their committed support, their ambitious coach, the former Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic. And their nerves got to them. Chelsea started Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the hope of the club's expensive but modestly successful youth academy, and he quickly made his mark - with a high boot, as he earned a caution after just 40 seconds.

Mourinho did not like that and there was a scowl on the prowl from him as he stalked the touchline, arms shoved into his coat, sporting his new severe haircut. That reaction was as nothing, however, to his fury when Maccabi goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic was only shown a yellow card as he caught Willian when the Brazilian ran on to Loic Remy's through-ball. He should have been dismissed.


Still Chelsea had the penalty which, astonishingly, Eden Hazard then lofted very high over the crossbar. But it seemed only a matter of time.

Maccabi were struggling with Tal Ben Haim, another former Chelsea player, hacking down Oscar with the ball remaining contained in the Israelis' half.

There was no way they could hold out and, inevitably, Chelsea scored.

It came direct from yet another free-kick with Willian whipping the ball in for it to rear up off the sodden turf. Rajkovic misjudged it and the ball flew into the net. This was his first Champions League game and it showed.

It was a poor concession by Maccabi, who were being overwhelmed by Chelsea and, possibly also, by the occasion.

Maybe it was too easy for Chelsea because they were nearly undone when Nikola Mitrovic swung in a free-kick and Maccabi's dangerous young striker, Erin Zahavi, ran free, far too easily evading his marker, to steer his header over the bar when he should have scored Chelsea applied the pressure and, on half-time, it told with Ben Haim, the defender, catching Costa as he ran through. Another penalty. This time Oscar took it and placed the ball low into the corner. Surely that was it.

Mourinho demanded more, sensing that a big victory, no matter how modest the opposition, could change the dynamic of a frustrating campaign.

Rajkovic forced Costa wide, as the striker again threatened to burst through, before Maccabi showed another flicker of resistance as they constructed an attack which ended with Avraham Rikan's volley being deflected narrowly wide as Nosakhare Igiebor, also, marginally failed to turn the ball in.

But Chelsea struck again. It was a superb strike from Costa as he was picked out by Fabregas with a chipped cross and hooked in his right-footed volley.

As Maccabi tried to salvage something Chelsea broke quickly and in numbers with Hazard charging forward before slipping a pass to Remy, whose shot was parried by Rajkovic - only for the ball to run to Fabregas, who tapped it in.

A dangerous low cross by substitute Dor Peretz was met by Igiebor. But he turned it over the bar. Chelsea had the clean sheet as well as the win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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