Chelsea 4 Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0: Three talking points
Three talking points as Chelsea ease to victory in their Champions League opener at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea overcome group-stage opener demons
Jose Mourinho called on his Chelsea side to show the spirit of champions ahead of their Champions League opener his programme notes. The Blues boss was rightly edgy with his players lacking confidence and form following back-to-back Premier League defeats either side of the international break. Throw into the mix the fact that Chelsea haven’t won their opening Champions League group-stage game since 2012, and it was no surprise Mourinho spent most of the first half on his feet prowling his technical area. When Eden Hazard hoofed an early penalty attempt over the crossbar, naturally, thoughts of Basel (2013) and Schalke’s (2014) resistance came to mind. But ever-dependable Willian settled Chelsea nerves with a curling free-kick which beat his team-mates and opponents. It was far from pretty but Oscar’s added time penalty at the end of the first half cemented their lead before Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas polished off the win and a champions’ performance that Mourinho so badly needed.
Costa was dropped to the bench alongside skipper John Terry for Chelsea’s Champions League opener. However, it wasn’t long before the Spain international was on the pitch after Willian’s 10th-minute injury. Costa had his chance to prove a point to his manager. According to reports in the British media, Mourinho has been unimpressed with the striker’s fitness levels. And those speculated concerns appear well-founded with Costa cumbersome in his movement. But what the No19 lacks in sharpness, the 26-year-old compensates with his tenacity. And it was his determination that won their second penalty of the first half. Sportingly, Costa relinquished spot-kick duty to Oscar, but the Brazilian-born forward would have his second goal of the season in the 60th minute. The former Atletico Madrid man guided a sumptuous volley past the Maccabi Tel-Aviv goalkeeper to indicate that he is close to a return to his best. It was Costa’s sixth goal in his Champions League career and a timely confidence booster ahead of the visit of Arsenal on Saturday.
Baba is just a number
Mourinho identified left-back as a position that needed strengthening in the summer transfer window. Baba Rahman was the man signed to add some depth to the position, which has been filled by the consistent if unspectacular Cesar Azpilicueta throughout most of Mourinho’s second Blues reign. The Chelsea manager dropped John Terry to the bench for the visit of the Israeli champions, allowing for a defensive shake-up and Rahman’s debut. But it was a tentative start for Chelsea’s number six. The Ghana international will do as an option for the Capital One Cup, dead rubbers in the Champions League and games against lowly Premier League opposition, but faced with some of England and Europe’s better sides, expect Mourinho to stick with Azpilicueta on evidence of Rahman’s debut showing.