Despite being outplayed for the majority of the game and with our defensive frailties seeing us concede a further 2 goals (15 in the last 7 games now), we once again found a way to dig out a victory when all hope of it appeared to be lost.
Shakhtar may top the group due to having scored more away goals in their defeat to us than in ours to them but Robbie Di Matteo’s Midas Touch in cup football continues.
A draw in Turin and victory over Nordsjaelland will see us qualify for the knockout stages but we are doing it the hard way. The Chelsea way.
The Blues made a bright start. An early Luiz Free Kick was fumbled but saved by Pyatov who had a game to forget.
Fernando Torres spurned his first opportunity from Oscar’s pass on 6 minutes.
From the restart, Pyatov played a 1-2 with his left back and his attempted clearance cannoned off Torres who gratefully accepted the gift. The rest of Torres’ evening would be industrious, with his work rate back to the high level we have come to expect.
Torres had a further opportunity saved after again being played in by Oscar before Shakhtar equalised.
Fernandinho left Ryan Bertrand slipping as he pulled a cross back for Willian to score from 10 yards. Bertrand had a poor night and suddenly the left back position at Chelsea, so long formidable, looks increasingly like our achilles heel.
The Blues were visibly deflated in the aftermath of the equaliser but Hazard, whose light burned brightly throughout dribbled and played in Torres wide on the left. He opted to shoot when a pass to the now unmarked Hazard was the percentage ball. No criticism from me for that though Fernando.
Oscar and Torres once again linked up well to force a corner on 19 minutes but the next 20 minutes were largely Shakhtar’s. Comfortable in possession and with players whose familiarity with each other has been pivotal to their unbeaten 2012 to date, for a while, it was easy to forget that we were playing at home.
The best they had to show for their dominance was an Alex Texeira shot that was inches wide of Cech’s right hand post. The lack of pressure on the ball, a worryingly repetitive feature of recent defensive displays was again in evidence.
Torres headed wide from Mata’s chip but had to try and generate pace on the ball: a quarter chance at best.
With 5 minutes to Half Time, Oscar’s goal scoring affair with the Champions League continued. After sustained Shakhtar possession, Hazard emerged with the ball and found Mata. His crossfield ball was headed out by Pyatov (sweeping way outside his box) and the ball feel to Oscar 35+ yards out who took one touch and launched a right foot drive into the unguarded net.
So many times, such efforts clear the bar or go wide but Oscar kept his cool and took his chance with a terrific strike.
Oscar had another shot turned out for a corner in the last significant action of the half. After a below par performance against Swansea, he had delivered a superb 45 minutes of intelligence and creativity. He would fade from the game in the Second Half but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Shakhtar equalised within 2 minutes of the restart with a carbon copy of their first goal. Ryan Bertrand was AWOL as Srna crossed for Willian to finish.
Their goal set the tone for a challenging second half that Chelsea looked destined not to score in.
Shakhtar had back to back chances to take the lead from successive corners. Rat’s sweet left foot strike swerved and crashed against Cech’s left post before being scrambled out. The next corner led to a shot that was a whisker wide of the opposite post. Our defensive organisation had once again left the building.
After Hazard was tripped outside the penalty area, his Free Kick evaded everyone before going behind. Ivanovic could and should have had a tap in at the back post if he’d gambled.
On 65 minutes, Torres was upended. Mata’s Free Kick was headed home by John Mikel Obi but as the Matthew Harding Lower went delirious, the bubble was burst by the Assistant Referee’s flag. Mikel had strayed half a yard offside.
Hazard’s shot from a tight angle was well saved by Pyatov at his near post. Hazard then played in Ramires who was clearly fouled and went down inside the Shakhtar penalty area. It seems Blues fans are getting used to the number of these decisions that go against us, despite a brief chorus of “we’ve seen it before”.
Mikel volleyed wide before Oscar was replaced by Moses on 80 minutes.
A Mata corner was headed goalwards by Cahill but Willian cleared at the expense of a corner.
As the clock ticked down on normal time, Sturridge replaced Torres before Shakhtar had 3 shots blocked in succession by some last ditch Chelsea defending, the last turned away for a corner.
3 minutes of added time yielded nothing until a corner was forced with seconds remaining.
Mata, who looked to be limping for the last 20 minutes commanded his wand of a left foot to deliver an inswinging corner. Moses rose to head home a bullet header from 6 yards at the near post.
For the second Wednesday in succession, Chelsea had changed the course of their season’s destiny in a competition with the last effective kick of the game.
Most of the 41,067 in the crowd could not quite believe what they had seen. Maybe, that’s why we’re Champions of Europe.
The haters can say what they like but even the most ardent cannot deny that we have a never say die team spirit. Winning when playing below your best is the most valuable commodity in football. It is essential for success in the Champions League and Premier League, by which ultimately Roberto Di Matteo will be judged.
Eden Hazard exemplified the need for a talented footballer to keep his head up to the end. He was at fault for one of Shakhtar’s goals in the away defeat and looked like a man who wanted to make amends for the rest of that game and throughout this one. Even when not at his best, he gives us a sharper attacking edge and is not shy of tracking back.
Having been critical of his performances since the International Break, Fernando Torres deserves credit for a return to his hard working self. His goal was deserved and his celebration of Oscar’s almost as enthusiastic as his own.
Clean sheets have deserted us. A worrying number of goals are coming from defensive problems on our left. Ashley Cole has not been at his best for several weeks and Ryan Bertrand was arguably at fault for both goals last night. Last night was Ryan’s chance to enhance his claim to be our first choice Left Back if as seems likely, Ashley Cole moves on sooner rather than later. He didn’t.
Ramires is not always the most aesthetic looking footballer and when he has a bad game, as he did last night, he looks like the kid who is last to get picked for a kickabout in the playground. He ran into too many cul-de-sacs and his distribution was below par. Mikel may not be everyone’s favourite footballer but he outshone Ramires here. Hopefully, the real Ramires will be back for Liverpool.
Juan Mata looked to be limping for the last quarter of the game. Given the importance of the game if he was rushed back, it was arguably worth it. In the short term. If he misses a month as a result it would look short sighted.
Moment of the match
Oscar’s goal: a sublime finish. As great as he is, how good could he be in the years to come?