Chelsea top group but fail to inspire

Chelsea 1 Steaua Bucharest 0
Chelsea will go into Monday’s Champions League draw as seeds for the last 16 after a routine victory over Steaua Bucharest ensured they finished top of their qualifying group.

However, an uninspired performance and a half-hearted atmosphere at Stamford Bridge would seem to indicate Jose Mourinho has not solved all his problems just yet.

A scrappy goal from Demba Ba, initially given as an own goal for Daniel Georgievski, was enough to clinch victory — and with no complicated mathematics required to work out who tops the group, the job was done however dull it may have been.

However, hot on the heels of a 3-2 defeat at Stoke City — and with memories of an away defeat at Basel still fresh — the fact Mourinho did not get the dynamic and fluent performance he was hoping for in a week in which Chelsea’s title potential has been under discussion, must be of concern.

The Special One, in fact, has gone to extraordinary and previously unchartered lengths to lower expectations in west London; first suggesting his side would struggle to finish as champions and then comically claiming even his training ground dummies would stand a chance of scoring against Chelsea given recent performances.

If his tactics were designed to inspire his attacking players into a more thrilling display then unfortunately the plot failed to reap dividends, even against a very poor Steuau side who were always destined to finish bottom of Group E.

Mourinho admitted afterwards his team could have made it more comfortable for themselves with a second goal. He said: “The second goal didn’t arrive, when it doesn’t the opponent is alive and enthusiastic...and fighting for the result. Normally we have to score more goals again and win comfortably with more goals and more emotions for the supporters.

“We had the game always under control. We had the chances, the corners, the dominancy, and played very well. In the first-half we were quite strong. We still played a few long balls when we don’t need to do that.

“We don’t have enough patience sometimes to pass the ball and wait for spaces. Now we forget about the Champions League until 2014.”

The opening goal came after only 10 minutes when Willian’s corner was flicked on by Oscar and turned in at the far post by a combination of both Ba and Georgievski; and at that stage Stamford Bridge expected a rout. But it never happened .

The nearest Chelsea came to adding to their lead in the first-half was a smart header from Branislav Ivanovic, superbly saved by goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, before Eden Hazard wastefully headed over the bar after the break; and there was absolutely no sign of the attacking spark that Blues fans have been yearning for.

Chelsea’s next game is at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday — a must-win fixture that may not prove as easy as it looks given Palace’s recent improvement which has seen them concede only one goal in the last five games — with hugely important matches against Arsenal (away) and Liverpool (home) to look forward to over the Christmas week. So although there is no crisis just yet, there is certainly potential for one.

“It’s a vital time for us,” admitted captain John Terry. “Saturday’s result was not good enough and we had to react in the right way by finishing top of our group in the Champions League. Now we have to go on a good run of results if we are going to win the league.”

CHELSEA: Schwarzer 6, Ivanovic 7, Luiz 6, Terry 6, Cole 6, Oscar 6 (Schurrle 67; 6), Mikel 5 (Ramires 75; 6), Lampard 6, Willian 6 (De Bruyne 78) Ba 6, Hazard 6.

STEAUA BUCURESTI 7; Tatarusanu 6, Georgievski 7, Szukala 5, Gardos 6, Latovlevici 6, Chipciu 6, Iancu 5, Pintilii 5 (Tatu 64; 6), Stanciu 5 (Prepelita 61; 6), Parvulescu 6, Kapetanos 6 (Fiovaccari 70; 6).

Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).


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