Chelsea 1-1 Sparta Prague

Chelsea Football Club

Chelsea left it late to advance into the last 16 of the Europa League, as Sparta Prague’s early goal and stubborn resistance nearly humiliated the European Champions.

Lafata’s strike in the 17th minute cancelled out all the troubles in Prague for the Blues, and with the clock ticking away and extra time looming, Eden Hazard stepped up to be the super sub of the match.

It was risky as soon as Gary Cahill allowed Sparta forward, and when Lafata was not picked up, all the striker had to do was side-foot into the roof of the net.

From there, another goal would have surely been too much for the Blues to overcome, with Petr Cech, making his 100th UEFA appearance tonight, determined to celebrate his landmark, making some key saves.

His desires for a clean sheet pre-match will have been slightly optimistic: Chelsea have conceded six goals in the last four European home ties, the same number they shipped in the 12 at home before that.

So it was up to the Chelsea forward line to make amends for that early goal. Key players such as Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic were given the chance of a rest, completely omitted from the squad, so the likes of Victor Moses, Oscar and as per, Fernando Torres, had to stand tall on a big night for the west Londoners.

Indeed, the latter could be commended for his numbers of shots, recording more shots than any other player at Stamford Bridge. The flip-side to the statement was that only one of those was on target, so it was another one of ‘those nights’ for the Spaniard, who rarely has a ‘good night’ anymore.

One in 13 — and that one against a League 1 team — presents him as a barely recognisable figure from the chap who scored for fun in Liverpool.

Azpilicueta, Moses and Mikel all did their best to play in their main man, but there was no end product.

Even if he was not living up to expectations, his team-mates were after suffering the early set-back.

Juan Mata displayed glorious footwork and his volley was pushed onto the roof of the net from an inspired Sparta goalkeeper.

Even John Terry got into the act in the second half as things became more tense, rising highest from a set-piece, and his instinctive flick was acrobatically tipped over by Vaclik.

As Chelsea pressed, so they looked vulnerable on the counter-attack. Zapotocny and Kadlec both went close, with a combination of last-ditch Cahill interceptions or flying Cech saves the last barrier remaining.

Ramires had hit the post earlier on in the half so it may well have needed another thirty minutes to settle this one, but the night need not be extended with the skill Eden Hazard possesses, weaving his way in and around the Sparta Prague box, before unleashing a left-foot rocket to send Chelsea into the next round.