One way to solve your team’s problems in defense: Never concede the ball. And for much of today’s UEFA Champions League game at Stamford Bridge, that’s exactly what Chelsea did. It was only toward the end of Wednesday’s match that the Blues’ possession number dipped below 70 percent (69), but by that time, Chelsea were well on their way to protecting Demba Ba’s 10th minute goal, the team’s 1-0 win over visiting Steaua Bucharest giving them first place in Group E.
The Blues came into today’s game having allowed six goals in their last two Premier League games, but against a Steaua Bucharest side that failed to win a game in group play, Ba’s early goal was enough. With David Luiz returning to the team and Steaua unable to get the ball of their hosts, Mark Schwarzer was only tested twice, Petr Cech’s replacement keeping Chelsea’s first clean sheet in four games.
As a result, Chelsea finish group play with four wins in six, taking the group by two points over Schalke. Their two losses to Basel made for an uneven campaign, but after six games, José Mourinho’s team still ended up in the group winner’s pile for Dec. 16’s draw. They will be drawn against the tournament’s group runners-up (minus Schalke and fellow English sides Arsenal and Manchester City) for the Round of 16, with knockout round play set to start on Feb. 18.
Despite the close scoreline, Chelsea left little room for doubt on Wednesday, dominating the game from its opening moments. By the half-hour mark, the Blues had already forced 10 corner kicks, the sixth of which had the hosts on the scoresheet before the clock hit double digits.
From the right, Willian drilled his cross to one of the team’s least likely targets, Oscar having gotten open well outside the post. The Brazilian flicked his header perfectly toward the far upright, where Ba had beaten right back Daniel Georgievski. Originally credited as an own goal, the Senegalese striker was eventually put on the scoresheet for Chelsea’s early opener.
The Blues looked good for at least one more goal, Branislav Ivanovic going close in the 27th off a cross from Eden Hazard and Ba criminally missing from inside the six in the second half off a beautiful curling pass from Willian. But by the middle of the second half, Chelsea’s possession had become benign, with Hazard’s continued excellent form at the center of the Blues’ evermore sporadic threats.
If Chelsea’s threats were becoming less frequent, at least they had some. Steaua, playing with the urgency of a team that had nothing to gain , came close in the 13th minute when isolated John Terry was unable to track down Gabriel Iancu after a through ball. Schwarzer, however, rushed the midfielder into a shot just inside the penalty area, Steaua’s best chance of the day pushed wide of the right post.
Had that gone in, just three minutes after Ba’s goal, Chelsea may have become more ruthless. However, left to enjoy their one-goal margin, the Blues played out a predictable win, one that crystalized their spot atop Champions League’s Group E.
Chelsea: Demba Ba 10
Chelsea: Mark Schwarzer; Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (Ramires 74); Willian (Kevin De Bruyne 80), Oscar (Andre Schürrle 67), Eden Hazard; Demba Ba
Unused Substitutes: Juan Mata, Petr Cech, Fernando Torres, Gary Cahill
Steaua Bucharest: Ciprian Tatarusanu; Daniel Georgievski, Lukasz Szukala, Florina Gardos, Iasmin Latovievici; Mihai Pintilii (Leandro Tatu 64); Alexandru Chipciu, Gabriel Iancu, Nicolae Stanciu (Andrei Prepelita 61), Paul Parvulescu; Pantelis Kapetanos (Federico Piovaccari 71)
Unused Substitutes: Florin Nita, Fernando Varela, Ionut Neagu, Adrian Cristea