Lacklustre Chelsea secured top spot in Champions League Group E with a 1-0 defeat of Steaua Bucharest in a performance which is unlikely to have European football’s elite cowering for cover.
Scorer: Chelsea - Demba Ba (10)
The Blues had already qualified for the last 16 prior to the final match of the group campaign against already-eliminated Steaua, yet Jose Mourinho insisted his side were not contenders for the European Cup this term.
Demba Ba’s early goal earned victory over the Romanians, but on this evidence – as well as in the defeats to Basel at home and away – there is much to do if the Blues, the 2012 winners, are going to advance to the latter stages of the competition in the new year.
Mourinho and his players were hit by laser pens from the away end throughout and the Portuguese was at times aghast at the inability of his side to hit the target, either when passing or in front of goal.
The Blues took a tenth-minute lead due to Steaua’s shaky defence.
Initially it was deemed to be an own goal by Daniel Georgievski, who also found his own net in Bucharest, before Ba was subsequently confirmed as the scorer. Mourinho had joked that even a training ground dummy would have the good fortune to score against his side from a corner at present, but it was Steaua’s defence which was static from a Willian set-piece.
Oscar flicked the ball on to the back post and Georgievski contrived to allow Ba in at the back post to net. Steaua missed the chance to reply immediately when Gabriel Iancu latched on to a through ball which, worryingly for the hosts, split the Chelsea defence but dragged his shot wide when he should have scored. Ba missed a sitter from six yards early in the second half when found by a Willian cross, leaving Mourinho, who has expressed his frustration as his strikers have struggled to score this season, to shrug his shoulders.
Frank Lampard shot over and Cole fired straight at Tatarusanu from long range as Chelsea’s dominance continued but without much bite.
In a performance lacking intensity, the dominant Blues could not find a second goal and had to settle for a narrow win, their fourth of the pool, to advance to the knockout stages as group winners. Mark Schwarzer was given a rare start in goal,
becoming the oldest Champions League debutant aged 41 and he capped it with a clean sheet.
Mihai Pintilii shot narrowly wide for Steaua but still Schwarzer was little more than a spectator as Chelsea forged forward.
Alexandru Chipciu had a shot saved by Schwarzer in the first of four minutes of stoppage time but that was as good as it got for Steaua as Chelsea won unconvincingly.
Chelsea: Schwarzer, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Oscar (Schurrle 66), Mikel (Ramires 74), Lampard, Willian (De Bruyne 80), Ba, Hazard. Subs Not Used: Cech, Torres, Mata, Cahill.
Steaua Bucharest: Tatarusanu, Georgievski, Szukala, Gardos, Latovlevici, Chipciu, Iancu, Pintilii (Tatu 64), Stanciu (Prepelita 60), Parvulescu, Kapetanos (Piovaccari 71). Subs Not Used: Nita, Cristea, Neagu, Varela.