Chelsea topped their group and progressed through to the last 16 of the Champions League with an impressive victory against Porto on Wednesday. The match was arguably the Blues’ best performance of the season so far and could have easily been a four or five-nil rout, had it not been for some poor finishing and final-decision making.
Chelsea went in to the game knowing that a loss would see them relegated to this season’s Europa League, with Dynamo Kiev certain to beat the pointless Maccabi Tel Aviv. A draw would have been enough to go through, albeit in second place, but as it turned out Porto never looked like scoring at all.
Jose Mourinho recalled John Terry and Diego Costa to the starting line-up, as well as Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires, who made his first start since early November. Cesc Fabregas, Gary Cahill and Pedro were dropped to the bench.
The full starting line-up saw Courtois again in goal; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry (c) and Azpilicueta in defence; Ramires and Matic holding behind Willian, Oscar and Hazard; with Costa up front. Porto started with veteran keeper Casillas in goal; Pereira, Maicon (c), Marcano and Martins Indi in defence; Herrera, Danilo and Imbula in midfield; with Corona, Brahimi and Layun in attack.
It was a balanced but energetic start by both teams. Brahimi tested Courtois early on but it didn’t take much longer for the first goal to come. Eden Hazard released Diego Costa with a fantastic cutting pass just inside Porto’s half with the Spaniard forcing a save out of his compatriot in the Porto goal, which, fortuitously for Chelsea, ricocheted off Marcano and crept in. Although Maicon did well to hook the ball out, it was correctly adjudged by the official behind the goal to have crossed the line.
After Chelsea’s first goal went in they were hardly troubled throughout the whole game, despite the understandable nerves.
Chelsea continued to use the ball efficiently with accurate and direct passes, and Oscar had a claim for a penalty turned down shortly after the goal. The replays showed there was very slight contact, but not enough to warrant a penalty.
Diego Costa became the first player to be booked in the game when he inexplicably tripped Casillas after the keeper comfortably caught a lofted through-ball. This marked the start of a period of play that was punctuated by fouls and more yellow cards, most notably to Nemanja Matic, who now misses the first leg of the next tie.
The start of the second half brought with it a change of gear for Chelsea, who pressed well and exploited the space left behind by the advancing Porto players. Willian at this point had a shot saved by Casillas after a swift break involving an increasingly effective Costa.
Chelsea’s second goal came soon after with a move that looked strikingly similar to the one that produced a save moments before.
Diego Costa won the ball in the air and set Hazard off running at the Porto defence. The Belgian’s perfectly weighted pass across the box found Willian, who smashed a shot low and hard past Casillas. It was the Brazilian’s first goal from open play this season and another highlight from Chelsea’s most consistent player in 2015.
Porto kept searching for a goal to get back in the game, and came relatively close when Brahimi had a shot deflected past the far post. It was really the only time though where it looked like they might get a goal, as the Chelsea back four played with encouraging authority.
Chelsea continued to hit Porto on the break with speed and accuracy, creating a number of chances that should have buried Porto. Although he contributed far more to the game than he has done for a while, Costa (who is now pondering a return to Atletico should have gotten on the scoresheet a few times.
From defence to attack Chelsea played with an efficiency and drive that has been missing for large parts of the season. Although they were slightly wasteful in their finishing, it was a huge shot in the arm for the English Champions who now need to build on this win in their next domestic game against league leaders Leicester.