Chelsea made the most of their set-pieces as the Blues thrashed 10-man Maccabi Tel-Aviv — but their Champions League fate will still have to be decided with an all-or-nothing showdown against Porto.
The Blues raced into an early lead through Gary Cahill’s strike and secured the victory through Willian, Oscar and Zouma late in the second half, but with Porto losing against Dynamo Kiev, it leaves open the possibility of all three clubs ending the group stage phase with 11 points, in which case tonight’s performance will have helped the goal difference.
In the end, Chelsea can only do what is in front of them and, despite a very poor pitch, a helping hand from Tal Ben-Haim’s red card secured a comfortable victory.
With Chelsea back to winning ways at the weekend, it was a test to see whether they could garner back-to-back victories in Israel. Gary Cahill was restored back in the starting line-up and instantly proved his worth with a real poacher’s instinct, heading the ball down from a corner and, despite a world-class save, following up with his right foot to lash home the game’s first.
Up until that point, it was indeed Maccabi Tel-Aviv who had started the brighter, with Dor Poretz letting Chelsea off one when he headed a glorious chance over the bar.
Had that gone in, it might have made for a different game, but once Chelsea went into the ascendancy it was very much under their control. Maccabi sat back deep and invited pressure, with Hazard and Fabregas both having chances snuffed out, whilst Diego Costa’s bicycle kick was spectacular if ineffective.
Inviting pressure did not mean Maccabi had no intent to score, though, with their tactic of hitting Chelsea on the counter-attack looking like it would pay off on far too many occasions, with Chelsea’s back-line caught out but at no cost.
Harush was allowed to get a shot away — thankfully over — whilst Peretz was continually testing Baba Rahman who was the visitor’s left-back.
Diego Costa often rubs opponent defenders up the wrong way, and this was certainly the case with Tal Ben-Haim, who lashed out in frustration at the Spaniard. The Israeli needed little to be provoked and received his marching orders.
Could Chelsea take advantage? Slowly.
You would not have even noticed Maccabi spending the huge majority of the second half with 10 men, for they sat deeper and continued to counter-attack, fitting in their narrative already.
Dasa tested Begovic straight after the re-start whilst at the other end, Baba sent in many inviting crosses but Costa was not making the runs necessary to score the goals, much to Mourinho’s anger.
Rajkovic continued to excel as the last line of Maccabi’s defence, first beating away a Hazard drive and then Azpilicueta’s try too, but Begovic matched him when Zahavi escaped free, with the game becoming increasingly end-to-end.
It was Hazard who lost Zahavi down the Chelsea left and that was enough, said Mourinho, who hooked the Belgian for Pedro instead.
John Terry was stretchered off as he suffered out there in a horrendous pitch in the one down-side to tonight’s match, but Willian’s season from set-pieces gets better and better. The Brazilian looped the ball over the wall and got the ball down quickly enough from 25 yards for the ball to even take a bounce in the goal. It was his sixth goal from a direct free-kick this season.
With Maccabi trying so hard to not left the one-man deficit show, it would in the final 15 minutes after the Willian goal.
Baba’s superb cross from the left found Oscar on the penalty spot to head home, whilst the game’s fourth came in stoppage time from another head, this time Zouma’s from Oscar’s corner.
It was a harsh punishment from Chelsea on arguably the worst side out of all 32 sides in the Champions League group stage this season, and whilst their fate is a certain elimination, Chelsea still have it all to play for in two week’s time against Porto at Stamford Bridge.
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Man of the Match
BABA RAHMAN: We have seen little of this youngster, owing much to Azpilicueta’s fine form, and where he has had the odd cameo he has not particularly excelled, but given the whole match today it was clear his left foot can whip in much better crosses than Azpilicueta can, who always cuts inside. The 21-year-old Ghanaian was a constant source of balls from the left and kept Maccabi on their toes. 7/10
Mourinho understood the importance of momentum: “It is also important to have two victories in a few days. I hope tranquility comes, morale comes, confidence comes. In this moment we are in a good position. Maccabi don’t deserve such a hard punishment, they did OK for periods of the game with 10 men.”