Thursday night, Chelsea decisively defeated Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge in the Europa League quarterfinal by a score of 3-1. Despite conceding a vital away goal to the Russian side, Fernando Torres’ brace and a great half volley by Victor Moses send the Blues off to the Luzhniki Stadium next week with a comfortable lead.
It was hard to imagine that this was a Rubin side that had only conceded 19 goals out of 22 league matches and had comfortably dispatched the likes of Inter Milan and the current Europa League champions Atletico Madrid to get to this stage. Nevertheless, the Blues and Torres took this opportunity to cut them to pieces at will.
While the opening minutes provided nothing of real note, Chelsea pressured their visitors almost from the start and comfortably escaped the high pressing game of Rubin, forcing them into their own half while comfortably stroking passes around without really being challenged themselves.
Torres, chiefly, enjoyed the freedom he was given to dart in and out of spaces, and should have put the hosts up 1-0 after taking down a long pass from Frank Lampard on his chest, only to stroke the ball wide of the far post on the turn in the 12th minute.
He would, however, four minutes later atone for his mistake with a goal of rather scruffy quality. A long ball from David Luiz out of the back was allowed to evade the entire Rubin back line with Torres getting in behind. His failure to control the initial pass was largely due to the defender pulling him back, but fortunately he was quickest to react to the loose ball from his backside and poked home to settle one or two nerves around Stamford Bridge.
The confidence then began to flow from Torres, and moments later, he turned provider for an opportunity for Juan Mata at the far post. Working a brilliant bit of passing play with Moses, Torres left his marker sliding off the pitch and played a rabona across the box for Mata, only for the defender to clear.
Suddenly, Chelsea sprang into life, sensing that the time to kill the tie off was at hand, and Victor Moses would give them the vital two-goal cushion that they would have hoped for. After seeing his initial header palmed away by Sergei Ryzhikov, Moses struck with a wonderful half volley to the top corner after the defensive line blocked Torres’ shot, and Chelsea must have thought that all was done and dusted.
However, fate has a way of coming about, as well as the interpretation of the handball rule. Cristian Ansaldi’s shot struck the upper arm of John Terry standing a mere few yards away, with referee Gianluca Rocchi immediately pointing to the spot and awarding the captain a yellow card. Bebras Natcho calmly dispatched the spot kick past Petr Cech, and once more, the nerves returned.
Rubin manager Kurban Berdyev must have sensed it, too, as after the restart, he sent on Jose Rondon to add an extra attacking option to press Chelsea and hopefully consolidate the tie.
However, it was all short-lived as after the restart, Chelsea renewed their attacks and should have scored their third just minutes after the break when Mata found himself unmarked in the box with the ball at his feet, but his side-footed effort was pushed aside by Rhyzhikov.
Rafa Benitez must have sensed that a third goal was needed, sending on Eden Hazard for Victor Moses, but it was Mata who moments later would provide the magic ball. Finding space down the left hand side and with Torres calling for the ball in the area, the Spaniard-to-Spaniard connection produced the third goal after a stunning cross from Mata landed between the two defenders marking Torres for the striker to thump in for the third, giving him his 18th in all competitions this season.
That goal seemed to take all the sting out of the Russian side, and the Blues will come away knowing that they take a comfortable lead to the Luzhniki Stadium for the away leg, especially given the demons that that place holds.
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