Chelsea secured their place in the Champions League knock-out stages as group winners after a much-improved performance in a winner-takes-all showdown with Porto.
Group G was tentatively poised as the night started, and with Dynamo Kiev expected to win against Maccabi-Tel Aviv, it would mean a draw would leave all three sides on 11 points. In the end, it was Chelsea who emerged victorious, thus condemning Porto to the Europa League.
The goals came courtesy of a slice of luck from Chelsea’s top two goalscorers this season: own goal and Willian. The former came off a ricochet off Sierra’s chest whilst the tie was secured with Willian’s crisp low drive.
It goes some way towards relieving pressure of Mourinho, who was almost certainly set to be shown the exit door had Chelsea been dumped into the Europa League, for Chelsea’s best chance of getting in next season’s iteration of Europe’s premier competition is likely to be through this year’s version given how bad the Premier League campaign is going.
For such an important game, Mourinho must have been relieved to have his captain back, along with Ramires, at the expense of Fabregas’ starting XI position.
But it was another ominously slow start for Chelsea, with Porto shading the early contest. Brahimi was given time to test Courtois in his first Champions League game of the season, but Chelsea got their break in the 12th minute.
Hazard fed Costa, whose shot was blocked by Casillas but rebounded off Marcano’s chest and, despite Maicon’s best attempts, the fifth official did correctly award the goal.
This would go a long way to settling Chelsea’s nerves. A one-two between Willian and Oscar nearly saw Chelsea’s number 8 bend one past Casillas, but the play was at the right end of the field as far as the hosts were concerned for Courtois was still yet to be tested by a shot on target.
Matic picked up a yellow card ruling him out of Chelsea’s next European game, but that would be the first-leg of the last-16 tie, for which the draw will be made on Monday.
This was made certain soon after the restart through Willian’s first goal of the season to not come from a set-piece, and it was as simple as goals come. Costa received the ball from a throw-in and found Hazard, who played the ball onto Willian, who composed himself with one touch and rifled home with his second touch. It sent Abramovich into rapturous applause.
The crowd were beginning to enjoy their evening but all Porto needed was the one goal to get them right back into the tie.
Oscar had a cheeky back-heel saved which could have added another insurance goal for the Blues, whilst Costa was in no mood to score all game with touches heavy and a distinct lack of pace when one-on-one and shoulder-barged over by Martins Indi.
Hazard was enjoying the freedom that came from Porto throwing the kitchen sink at Chelsea in vain, and his left-foot shot hit the post.
Mikel, Pedro and Remy came on as Oscar, Costa and Hazard left to a standing ovation, but Chelsea’s job was done. Attentions turn back to the Premier League and the high-flying Leicester City.
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Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: The Belgian played the big part in both goals and looked revitalised as he tore Porto apart. He was helped by the fact Porto were chasing the game and this freed up room for him, but it was the sort of energy and trickery we have come to expect off Hazard, and much more will be needed against tougher opponents in the knock-out rounds. 8/10
Mourinho was pleased the players gave a performance to the fans: “It was an important result for the players and the clubs. The supporters are unbelievable in their support towards me and I feel sorry I cannot give them more than I am giving them. The players were really committed to get a result, as much for their pride. They didn’t want to go to the Europa League and especially after the last defeat at home, a second successive defeat would have been an attack to their pride.”
Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.
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