Chelsea made light work of Maccabi Tel-Aviv as the Blues won their first Champions League match of the season in resounding fashion.
Despite Hazard’s early penalty miss, Willian and Oscar both converted set-pieces before two more after the break from Costa and Fabregas secured the points, clean sheet and, crucially, much needed morale.
It was a match Chelsea needed to win, for they have not won at Stamford Bridge all season, and with the Premier League defence going pear-shaped, it was left to kick-start the season via another route, the Champions League.
Remy, Loftus-Cheek, Oscar and Rahman were all brought in to warn Costa, Matic, Terry and Ivanovic that there are no untouchables in the side, but Fabregas and Hazard, who have had as bad a start as the four dropped, were not made to pay. Cahill, with both main and deputy captain dropped, took the armband.
Perhaps they should have. Fabregas was found wanting in a deeper role alongside Loftus-Cheek, but the Spaniard needed to be more disciplined in the deeper role, especially alongside a youngster.
Hazard had a chance to right the wrongs from the penalty spot when Willian was brought down, but the Belgian, normally far too composed, was clearly agitated as he opted to blast, high and wide.
Willian, though, was Chelsea’s brightest spark in the opening quarter of an hour, often making positive runs and beating his man. He broke the deadlock with a long-range free-kick that evaded everyone, including the Tel-Aviv goalkeeper, before injury a few minutes later saw him replaced by Costa. His contribution, albeit brief, would be highly important, though.
It was 28/1 for Chelsea to win 5-0, with many expecting an angry Chelsea on-slaught, eager to put the month’s defeats behind them, but take nothing away from Maccabi Tel-Aviv, who were no pushovers.
Their main man, Zahavi, who has scored 12 goals in nine matches, was free from a floating free-kick and should have tested Begovic. It was an alarmingly high line by Cahill’s men.
Further Chelsea attacks were aplenty but few were clear-cut. Costa tried, and failed, with an overhead kick, Oscar hits bar when the ball dropped to him but was called offside anyway.
Oscar did score, though, in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half. Costa was dragged down by Ben Haim and Hazard was in no frame of mind to take, so it was left to Oscar to slot home his spot-kick duties.
That insurance goal would allow for a less nervy second half in a raucous stadium, and despite Igiebor being inches away from giving Maccabi one back, it would become three before the hour.
Costa and Fabregas linked up like so often at the start of last season, with the latter’s lofted ball inch-perfect for Costa to swing home. It was a much needed goal, his second of the season and first for Chelsea in Europe out of eight matches.
‘Fabregas the assister’ turned ‘Fabregas the goal-scorer’ as the Spaniard, low on form himself, rounded off a fantaastic night for Chelsea fans with a simple tap-in after a four-on-two counter-attack by the Blues. The relief was palpable, as shown by Fabregas’ celebration.
Traore could have made it five after a good give-and-go with fellow substitute Ramires, but it was job well done. With all plain-sailing, there was even an acknowledgement from Mourinho when “Stand up for the Special One!” rang round the stadium.
Now back to the Premier League.
Man of the Match
CESAR AZPILICUETA: Credit must go to Loftus-Cheek’s 75-minute contribution but Azpilicueta was equally reliable for the full 90. With Ivanovic dropped, Azpilicueta reverted back to his favoured right-back berth and made it look easy after becoming accustomed to the left. A sturdy wall and it will surely be another Rahman-Azpilicueta flanking on Saturday. 7/10
Mourinho was relieved: “I am happy with the result and the performance. In the same way as I was not in hell with bad results, I am not in heaven we won a game. It was a good victory. Missing the penalty was a good thing to test the team, we must be really strong to believe and the players have played very well, they showed a good attitude, good with the ball. Good individual performance helps the players’ self esteem and confidence, good collective performances are also good.”
Ex-Chelsea ace and current Maccabi manager Jokanovic was unsurprised with the defeat: “Overall it was a good performance but Chelsea had two penalties and deserved the three points. We must understand where we are, and what the Champions League is. The result is real and adequate, but the return leg will be a different match.”