Chelsea’s Champions League destiny became a little more clearer last night, but there can be no slip-ups in the next two games. If justice is done – and in football that’s not guaranteed – Shakhtar Donetsk will get through to the next stage, but the impressive Ukrainians cannot take progress for granted.
In the two games with Chelsea, Shakhtar were the better side. At Stamford Bridge, there were long periods where the home crowd was deathly silent and the only noise that could be heard was the thumping of the ball and the happy, chanting away fans. Their team almost – and the final result forbids me from being more definite –gave Chelsea the sort of lesson that Red Star Belgrade gave pre-conquest Liverpool back in the early 1970s. If Shakhtar had won, few could have complained. They were, at times, really quite outstanding.
If Chelsea, or indeed any of the European leviathans, don’t put a hefty cheque on the table for Willian in the coming months, I will be staggered. He is absolute top drawer, involved in everything and his running off the ball, let alone his use of it, was superb. The second Shaktar goal proved just that.
Chelsea, though, demonstrated the spirit of Munich to get the win, and that characteristic, so often associated with the English game, should not be under-estimated. At times, their football – going forward, I would add – was quite something, but at the back, it was again a horror story. Ryan Betrand and David Luiz must have been expecting the board to go up signalling their departure from the scene at any moment, but it never came. Instead, it was Oscar and the disappointing Torres who left the pitch, the former after scoring another excellent goal.
And as for the goals, one was a gift, one a sort of gift, albeit executed magnificently, and the other a set piece. Chelsea rarely opened up Shakhtar the way they so casually exposed the Blues. No wonder John Terry was upset at being left to warm the bench!
In the minutes leading up to Chelsea’s winner, I felt they had done well to contain the men in orange and black – a kit that made them appear like an EasyJet XI – so to come away with three points was a massive coup. It is a win that will look better and better as time goes by.
So now Chelsea pack their passports for Turin. This is the not the hurdle it once might have been, but RDM’s men must avoid defeat. Shakhtar could take a grip on the group by beating the hapless Danes, but a draw, followed by a win against Nordsjaelland will be enough to see Chelsea through to the last 16. But they will need to be more solid if they want to make the sort of progress expected by SW6’s favourite Oligarch…..