Chelsea missed a great chance to advance to the next stage of the Champions League as unfancied Maribor held them to a 1-1 draw in match that saw a missed penalty and a disallowed goal for the Blues.
A win for Mourinho’s men would have meant one more point from our next two games would secure our passage to the knockout rounds, however the reigning Slovenian champions put up a spirited performance to deny what many thought was a nailed-on away win. After being thumped 6-0 in the reverse, it made Maribor’s point all the more impressive, and keeps them in contention to qualify from a group they were considered to prop up.
With Liverpool’s team selection against Real Madrid on Tuesday under scrutiny, Chelsea named what was undoubted a strong side. Four changes were made to side that beat QPR, with Petr Cech in goal, Kurt Zouma at centre back, Andre Schurrle occupying the attacking midfield berth and Didier Drogba up top.
It was young defender Zouma who nearly gave Chelsea the opening goal. The profitable left hand side pairing of Filipe Luis and Eden Hazard won a corner, which found the Frenchman who could only head over after seven minutes.
After a brief spell of home pressure, Chelsea were at it again and Schurrle could miss what could easily be described as a sitter. A ball from Willian deflected off keeper Jasmin Handanovic which Schurrle turned over from six yards with the goal gaping. The deflection was relatively minor, and the German should have done better in truth.
The rest of the first half passed with little incident, with the exception of bookings for Filipe Luis and Maribor midfielder Zelijko Filipovic. While Chelsea were left to rue on missed opportunities, the home side could consider themselves very good value for their half-time parity, much to the enjoyment of their support, who were fine voice all night.
A double swap by Mourinho saw Schurrle and Willian replaced by Oscar and Diego Costa giving the side a similar to shape to that at the weekend in an effort to break down a stubborn Slovenian defence.
However, an absolutely sublime strike from Agim Ibraimi, who missed a penalty at Stamford Bridge, saw the minnows take the lead to raucous celebrations five minutes after the restart. The Macedonian international curled in past a despairing Cech, leaving Chelsea with a mountain to climb. It could have so easily have been 2-0 on the hour, but Luka Zahovic spurned a glorious chance as a Mitja Viler cross came his way but failed to score.
Chelsea were denied a penalty not long after, as Oscar was tripped while trying to receive a Ramires cross, but the referee ignored the pleas of Blues players and travelling fans alike, despite it looking a very decent shout.
Those travelling fans did not have to wait long for Chelsea to equalise and deserved it was too. Since falling behind the Blues had begun to go through the gears, and following a free-kick that John Terry diverted goalwards, Nemanja Matic stole in to score his second of the competition and Chelsea’s leveller.
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa both had shots saved, and Costa also had a shot that seemed perfectly legal chalked off for offside, but the biggest talking point of the night was yet to come. Viler fouled Hazard, who stepped up to the penalty spot himself to turn the game around. What he had not banked on however, was duffing his penalty down the middle, which Handanovic easily stopped to preserve equality, and that is how it stayed until the final whistle.
While disappointing, the draw made it 16 games unbeaten for Chelsea, who face Liverpool in the Premier League next on Saturday. Our next European game is a clash with second-place side Schalke – of course now managed by the man who brought us European glory Roberto Di Matteo.