Chelsea only needed a point at home to Porto in their final Group G game in order to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League. However, after yet another Premier League defeat at the weekend, at home to the lowly Cherries, Blues fans could have been forgiven for feeling a little nervous heading into this one. The likes of Terry, Ramires and Costa returned to the starting line-up against Mourinho’s old side, who needed to win this game to keep their Champions League hopes alive with Dynamo likely to win at home against group whipping boys Tel-Aviv.
Thankfully, luck was on their side on Wednesday night as an O.G. gave them a crucial lead in the 12th minute. Hazard played the ball through to Costa who broke through a challenge by Marcano Sierra and found himself 12 yards out on the right-hand side of the box with only Casillas between him and the goal. His strike was deflected away by the ‘keeper but then rebounded off the chest of Marcano and headed towards the goal with Maicon sliding in to clear it but the ball was correctly adjudged to have crossed the line by the 5th official behind the goal giving the Blues a 1-0 advantage which settled the nerves at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea almost made it two in the 28th minute after a nice interchange on the edge of the box between Brazilians Oscar and Willian but Oscar’s shot deflected away from Casillas but wide of his goal. However, Chelsea sealed it in the 52nd minute after some nice hold-up play by Costa before he found Hazard who played Willian in on goal and he struck a low-powerful shot into the right-hand corner of the net to make it 2-0. Brahimi was Porto’s biggest threat and he came close in the 64th minute when a cross from Corona on the right found him on the left-hand side of the box where he struck a shot that looked like it was heading for the top right-hand corner of the net but for Ivanovic getting the slightest touch to head it wide of the goal. Tello had a long-range shot which Courtious got down to save well before Hazard almost made it three when he dribbled into the area and decided to go alone before striking the outside of the post from a narrow angle. It was an excellent team performance with plenty of positives to take and should give the likes of Oscar and Costa a much-needed confidence boost (match report).
That victory meant that Chelsea topped the group, two points clear of second-place Dynamo, and that means they will face a runner-up in the last 16 with the draw being made today (Monday). Mourinho said that “every team finishing second wants to play (Chelsea) or Zenit” and although the runner-up teams are strong and include the likes of PSG and Juventus, he will no doubt be relieved to avoid group winners Real, Barcelona and Bayern.
However, the Blues will have their sights on their visit to the King Power Stadium as they take on Premier League leaders Leicester City on Monday. The Foxes have won seven and drawn two of their last 10 league games at home with Chelsea having won only one of their last eight away matches in the league but the Blues do have a great record against Leicester having won their last six Premier League encounters. Leicester – and ex-Chelsea – manager Ranieri and striker Vardy received the Premier League Manager of the Month and Player of the Month awards, respectively, and Mourinho even praised the Italian coach having been less than complimentary in the past:
“One year ago they were bottom of the league and Ranieri was sacked by the Greece national team for losing to the Faroe Islands, now he is the top manager in the Premier League and their players are top of the league,” said the Portuguese. “That’s the beauty, it’s fantastic”
This will be a difficult task for the Blues but maybe they can finally change their fortune in the league while ending Leicester’s excellent run in the process.