Mission accomplished from the evening – without the gloss that many were hoping for. Since the draw for the group was made, it was the minimum requirement to ensure we avoided the the bigger boys by winning a group inhabited by relative European minnows.
Team news revealed that the home sides’ starting eleven was stronger than most had expected. What many had not taken into consideration was the fact that Steaua, having already been eliminated, were playing for pride but also have sizeable, important league fixtures starting at the weekend. For that reason, both first choice strikers were rested. When you consider how much of a stroll Chelsea had in Bucharest, the omission of their better players made the relatively simple task even more straight forward.
Chelsea started brightly with what must have been half a dozen corners inside the first twenty minutes. Steaua seemed to implement the ultra deep defensive line that Stoke deployed which made it difficult for Hazard and co to play between the lines initially. If a goal was going to come then it looked likely to be a set piece rather than intricate link up of the three attacking midfielders. So it was that Willian’s corner was flicked on by Oscar at the near post and Ba’s shunted it over the line, possibly with the help of the much maligned Georgievski.
From this point to the end of the second half Chelsea’s desperation to grab the comfort of a second goal became apparent. Steaua nearly got in on the break once or twice and created one glorious chance in particular. Chelsea proceeded to have chances of their own and Ba’s failure to convert after a wonderfully worked move made for a slightly nervy evening. The move began, as usual, with Hazard’s relentlessly successful penetration. A high tempo build up was worked for Willian to fizz in a perfect cross that bobbled up off the centre forward’s ankle and over the bar. In truth, Steaua, despite their defensive set up, were not particularly difficult to penetrate and poor finishing was the main reason that they lost by only a single goal. Luiz, eager to hit thirty yard through balls in the first half subscribed to the overall team ethic of keeping the ball in the second half. The away side looked content at 1-0, to stay deep and counter with possession, so Chelsea wisely kept the ball between Terry and Luiz for large periods.
Mourinho’s three subs were wisely used in that they offered Chelsea something a little different in wide areas. This seemed to be the best way to hurt the cagey Romanians. Schurrle, so impressive at Stoke, looked lively again. Particularly as he often found himself running at the full back he tormented in Bucharest. Ramires’ introduction meant a little more energy that the more possession focused Mikel and De Bruyne gave Latovlevici something different to think about on Chelsea’s right. The Belgian was close to slipping in Ba late on and Hazard, seemingly toying with the opposition at times, found himself on the end of a clever piece of build up play created by Schurrle, only to nod over from close range.
It turns out that a draw would have been enough but Ba’s goal gave maximum points and a much kinder draw for the last 16. A luxury that certain London rivals will not have on Monday.