John Terry did his bit for Chelsea last night on his return to the starting line-up for this Europa League clash. They don’t call him Captain, Leader, Legend for nothing. Juan Mata put Chelsea ahead on the night with his 18th goal of the season – but Vlad Chiriches equalised to leave the Blues needing two more.
Terry scored from a 59th minute Mata free-kick to give them hope of another comeback to follow after Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final stunner at Old Trafford, when we drew 2-2. And when Fernando Torres added No.3 for Chelsea with a left-foot shot in the 71st minute, the rescue job was complete. Chelsea had work to do after losing the first leg in Bucharest, when a penalty from Raul Rusescu was the difference between the teams as confident Torres strikes the bar instead of goal!! What an accuracy!!
So Blues boss Rafa Benitez resisted the urge to rest too many players – even though he knew winning the tie would cause his men all sorts of fixture problems. He put out as strong a team as he could, with Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard all starting behind Torres. Benitez had no real choice with Torres as Demba Ba is cup-tied, but it’s rare to see all three of the others starting together these days.
Steaua have bad memories of playing in England. In 2006 they went to Middlesbrough with a 1-0 advantage in the UEFA Cup semi-finals, only to lose 4-3 on aggregate. Chelsea proved they know a thing or two about comebacks when they fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at United on Sunday.
They almost made a nightmare start and again it was that man- Rusescu who wriggled clear. But Petr Cech made a vital fingertip save to deny Steaua a potentially crucial away goal. The visitors were well organised, well-drilled and well up for it.
It took Chelsea 23 minutes to test keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, with Oscar dummying the whole back four and picking out Mikel, who shot produced a diving save. But when the goal came, it was a scrappy affair. Mata played a one-two with Ramires and broke into the box. Tatarusanu was out quickly to save but the ball struck his leg and dribbled slowly in off the post.
If they thought their opponents would buckle though, they were sadly mistaken, as Steaua got that away goal in first-half stoppage time. Alexandru Bourceanu swung in a corner and Cech managed to save Cristian Tanase’s initial shot, but it came back off the post for Chiriches to smash home.
That left Chelsea needing two – and Terry and Torres obliged to fire them into the last eight. Firstly, Mata delivered towards Terry from his left-footed free-kick. The skipper’s powers may have been reduced by age and niggling injury, but when left unmarked he remains a potent force and his header from 10 yards went in off the post. Secondly, Mata set up the third goal Chelsea needed. He cut in from the right, Hazard stepped over the left-footed cross and Torres picked up the ball. The striker stepped around Lukasz Szukata and netted low across goal. Torres’ strike was the £50million striker’s second goal in 19 games.
The World Cup winner lost his footing in the area soon after under the challenge of Szukata, emerging with a bleeding nose, before shooting narrowly wide. Chelsea were awarded a penalty when Hazard was caught by Bourceanu. Torres, with a chance to increase the lead, stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way – but his shot hit the top of the crossbar. The game ended with the scoreline of 3-1 with an aggregate of 3-2.
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was always confident the Blues would see off Steaua. He said: “It’s a big win because we wanted to qualify for the next round. When they made it 1-1 we knew we’d have to score twice but at the weekend we made up a two-goal deficit (against Manchester United in the FA Cup) at Old Trafford, so we knew we could score the goals.”
Cech also offered praise for Torres. He said, “He was working hard and took his chance great,” Cech said. “It was a pity the penalty didn’t go in for him but the important thing is we scored three goals so we are happy.”