Chelsea 6 FC Nordsjaelland 1
Rafa Benitez has at last claimed his first victory as interim manager at Stamford Bridge, his team have rediscovered their love of attacking football and Fernando Torres has ended his goal drought; but not many Chelsea fans were looking on the positive side as their side became the first Champions League holders ever to be knocked out in the group stage despite beating Danish side Nordsjaelland 6-1.
Torres was a transformed figure as he scored twice against the Danes with Oscar, Juan Mata, Gary Cahill and David Luiz completing a rout that, however impressive, was rendered almost meaningless by Juventus’ 1-0 victory over Shakhtar in Donetsk, a scoreline that saw Chelsea drop to third in Group E and miss out (because they scored a goal less in the head-to-head with Shakhtar) on a place in the last 16.
What a turnaround there has been in west London since the Blues lifted the big-eared trophy in Munich last May when Didier Drogba’s winning penalty in a dramatic shoot-out created history for Roman Abramovich’s side; because now they face the prospect of Europa League football on a Thursday nights in 2013 amid growing frustration from their own fans.
That in itself is a stain on the club that Abramovich cannot be proud of; but having watched his side finally hit form against Nordsjaelland perhaps he can at least hope that his controversial decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo may not be the total disaster it first appeared to be.
A miserable defeat in Turin against Juventus and a poor display in Donetsk put them in serious trouble in this competition long before Benitez arrived; so you cannot possibly blame him for their exit and although Chelsea fans, who continue to boo him won’t admit it, perhaps there were signs of a recovery.
Benitez admitted there was a hollow feeling in the dressing-room afterwards but was determined to focus on the positives of his first win in charge.
“I think always when you win it is a positive. When it is at home it is even better,” he said. “When you win you have to be happy but we are disappointed too as we didn’t progress.”
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech believes the opening day 2-2 home draw with the Italian champions was the most damaging result.
“You have results where we lost away to Donetsk and Juventus but I think the main difference was the draw against Juve at home,” said Cech. “We were 2-0 up and then ended 2-2. If you drop too many points in the group then you can’t go through.”
Chelsea always knew their hopes of progression were in the hands of someone else; so what really mattered here was how they reacted to such a terrible display against West Ham at the weekend when even manager Benitez accused his players of showing a lack of character.
In fairness, Chelsea did show some fight and desire in a dominant and vibrant performance full of good attacking football and silver linings.
It could have been different if Petr Cech had not saved an early penalty from Nicolai Stokholm, given for handball by Cahill, and there were even more nerves when Eden Hazard missed a spot-kick at the other end minutes later. But the match turned shortly before half time when Chelsea won another penalty, also for handball, and this time David Luiz made absolutely no mistake with a thunderous effort from 12 yards that sparked a dominant performance for the next 50 minutes.
The much-maligned Torres, who hadn’t scored since November 7 and who hasn’t hit the net in the Premier League since October 6, began his recuperation by racing onto a Victor Moses pass and scoring at the second attempt in first-half injury time.
It was 2-1 seconds into the second-half when Joshua John stunned Chelsea on the break but from then on the goals flowed at regular intervals; Cahill heading home, Mata and Oscar providing excellent finishes and Torres scoring the goal of the game following a surging run by the equally revitalised Hazard.
In any other circumstances you would say it was a night of positives; but the muted response at the final whistle told a different story.
CHELSEA: Cech 8, Ivanovic 6, Luiz 8, Cahill 7, Cole 7 (Bertrand 60; 6), Romeu 5, Ramires 6 (Oscar 65; 6),Hazard 6, Mata 7 (Ferreira 74; 6), Moses 7, Torres 8.
NORDSJAELLAND: Hansen 7, Ticinovic 7 (Issah 65; 6), Parkhurst 7, Runje 5 (Beckmann 9; 7), Mtiliga 6, Gundelach 6, Stokholm 7, Adu 8, Christiansen 6 (Kildentoft 60; 6), John 6, Lorentzen 6.
Referee: Bas Nijhuis (Holland)
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