NK Maribor 1 Chelsea 1
Chelsea must wait to secure qualification from Champions League Group G after Eden Hazard missed a late penalty in a 1-1 draw against minnows Maribor.
The Slovenians were unrecognisable from the side beaten 6-0 by Chelsea two weeks ago and claimed a deserved lead when Agim Ibraimi curled in a beautiful shot into the top corner five minutes into the second half.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had already reacted to a poor first-half showing by his side at the Stadion Ljudski vrt by making a double substitution at half-time, introducing striker Diego Costa and Oscar.
Luka Zahovic missed a fine chance to double the advantage and enhance Maribor’s claims of inflicting Chelsea’s first defeat of the season before Nemanja Matic’s close-range effort 17 minutes from time which saved the Blues’ blushes.
“I wasn’t happy with the team and I was not happy with the performance,” said Mourinho. “I changed at half-time with the conviction that the team was going to improve, which I was proven right.”
Maribor goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic saved well from Hazard and Costa, who had the ball in the net after 79 minutes, only for the strike to be ruled out for offside. Hazard was then fouled for an 86th minute spot-kick, but the Belgian’s effort was too central and Handanovic saved.
“When a player plays so well like Eden Hazard did for me, was absolutely fantastic, by far the best player of my team. A player with a performance like this can miss a penalty and still be the best player in my team,” said Mourinho.
It was not the warm-up the Premier League leaders would have been hoping for ahead of a return to domestic duty at Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime.
While Liverpool made wholesale changes for their Tuesday night trip to Real Madrid, Mourinho kept his to four for a match against a team merely pleased to have reached this stage.
Zouma could have given the Blues, playing in yellow, the lead but headed wide from Fabregas’ cross after Maribor half-cleared a corner. A deflected Drogba shot was saved by Handanovic as Chelsea pressed forwards again, with Maribor packing bodies behind the ball and playing on the break.
Maribor breached the Chelsea defence, but Zouma scrambled clear a Sintayehu Sallalich shot after Zahovic’s pull-back. World Cup winner Schurrle has struggled to impress since returning to club duty and the Germany forward and was unable to convert a straightforward opening from a deflected Willian cross, though his embarrassment was tempered by an offside flag.
Drogba and Hazard were denied and Mourinho was told to “sing up” and “give us a song” by the travelling support.
They were references to his comments on the atmosphere against QPR being unsatisfactory and he will have been less than impressed to reach half-time level. His reaction was to send for reinforcements in the shape of Costa and Oscar, with Willian and Schurrle hauled off.
Chelsea soon fell behind, though, as Ibraimi, in the right channel, turned back on to his left foot and struck an unstoppable shot into the far corner of Cech’s goal.
Ramires replaced Filipe Luis in Chelsea’s third change as Mourinho switched to three at the back. The tactical switch almost came at a cost as Maribor left-back Mitja Viler roared forward and crossed dangerously to the back post, where Zahovic missed a glorious opportunity.
Drogba was unable to get a header on target and Oscar’s run at the Maribor defence ended with him prone on the floor, appealing in vain for a penalty. The Brazilian flashed a deflected shot wide and Chelsea equalised from the resulting corner by Fabregas.
John Terry headed the ball down and Matic thumped it in from close range.
With the game stretched, Hazard took it upon himself to make something happen and his trickery saw him fouled by Viler. However, the Belgium playmaker saw his spot-kick saved as Maribor secured a deserved draw.
MARIBOR: Handanovic, Viler, Arghus, Rajcevic, Stojanovic, Sallalich (N’Diaye 90), Filipovic, Mertelj, Ibraimi (Bohar 89), Tavares, Zahovic (Mendy 72).
CHELSEA: Cech, Luis (Ramires 55), Terry, Zouma, Ivanovic, Hazard, Matic, Fabregas, Willian (Oscar 46), Schurrle (Costa 46), Drogba.
Ref: Daniele Orsato (Italy).
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