Nothing like leaving it to the end, but Chelsea are through to the Europa League round of 16
Chelsea looked pretty good coming out of the gate, and created a few chances in the early going that really should have had them ahead. As has become typical lately, they'd muff the chances and Sparta would work their way into the tie. After some laughable defending on a set piece, Chelsea found themselves trailing at the half. They were probably lucky that the deficit was only a single goal, as they looked typically toothless after the opening minutes of the half.
The second half got off to another decent start, with Oscar bullying the ball away from a Sparta midfielder, racing the length of the pitch, and setting Ramires up for a shot that was deflected off of the woodwork. They'd be the better side for the majority of the second half, but still struggled to put away any of the half chances that they created. Luckily Eden Hazard buried an absolute laser which bailed out Chelsea at the death:
- I was absolutely furious when I saw Juan Mata in the starting lineup for this game. He was used very heavily while Victor Moses was away and Eden Hazard was suspended, so naturally the way to do things with a trio of weak opponents was to start Mata in all three contests. Rafa clearly had an eye on the weekend game with Manchester City as the rest of the lineup would show, so why not let Oscar play centrally and put Marko Marin or the hobo on the wing? For what it's worth, he looked absolutely exhausted on the pitch today.
- I really hope Roman Abramovich was watching the FSC feed for this one. The Bridge sounded like it was hopping, but it was 100% Sparta Prague fans that we were hearing. I remember the noise about this tie last season when we were hosting Napoli in the tie that turned around our season, and the Bridge today was nothing like that atmosphere. Abramovich and the board would be well served by considering the fans in the coming months, as at the moment we don't have much of a home field advantage.
- Fernando Torres was absolutely dire with the ball in the first half, but there were definitely thing to be happy about with his performance. For a change, he wasn't just running aimlessly about and dropping deep to get involved with the buildup. Instead he was doing exactly what he should have been doing, making runs at the goal to provide a target and create space behind him. His intelligent movement led to loads of chances for him to finish, but unfortunately that's leads to loads of reminders that he's still Fernando Torres.
- Eden Hazard is swell.
- More than securing advancement to face the winner of the Bucharest/Ajax tie (which is heading to extra time at the moment), I was thrilled that we weren't stuck playing 30 extra minutes in this one.