So as Chelsea made their Europa League debut against Sparta Prague at the Generali Arena, Frank Lampard captained the side in place of a fit again but not selected JT, Bertrand started in place of Cole with Cahill and Ivanovic in the centre of defense and Marin handed a rare starting birth with Cech, Azpilicueta, Ramires, Mata, Hazard and Torres completing the Blues starting line-up.
The first half offered very few good chances to either team as Chelsea looked a little lethargic lacking a cutting edge. Neither side looked particularly inspired in attack and Sparta were constantly running and closing Chelsea down making it difficult for the Blues to impose themselves on the game. Fernando Torres looked off the pace and a little disinterested.
Both keepers had little to do in the first half and it became increasingly apparent that it was going to take a moment of individual magic from someone for either side to get on the score sheet. Cahill received the game’s first yellow card after 40mins for a foul on Sparta forward David Lafata.
As the teams came out for the second half Chelsea looked a little bit more lively as Torres took a long ball on his chest on the hour mark and laid a lovely ball into the path of Marin on his right but a Sparta defender made the block when perhaps Marin should have done better. As more and more of the second half wore on, Torres was certainly the liveliest Chelsea forward, suggesting that Benitez got in his ear at the interval.
Again it was Torres making inroads as he got on the end of a Mata free kick on 67 mins but he headed well over the bar and then Yossi Benayoun made his first Chelsea appearance for some time coming on for the tiring Marin who had a decent game overall. Lampard headed a decent Mata cross straight into the arms of the Sparta keeper after more great work from Torres.
Sparta put so much into the first half, that they started to run out of steam as the game went into the last 20 mins and with them creating very little in attack they threw on Kweuke for Lafata with 15 mins left, hoping to take advantage of his size to give them a different option upfront but it did not amount to much as they could provide him with any service.
Benitez decided to use his bench and sent Oscar on for Mata with 10 mins left hoping for a bit of Brazilian magic to turn the game in Chelsea’s favour and indeed 30 seconds later it looked like a master-stroke from the Spanish manager as Oscar combined with Hazard, playing a slick one two, then slipped past the Sparta centre back with ease before beating the Sparta goalkeeper with a sweet left foot finish.
Torres continued his good work as he was denied with 7 mins left as his shot seemingly destined for the top corner required a great save from the Prague keeper to keep it from hitting the top corner of the net. Azpilicueta conceded a corner with 5 mins left as former West Brom striker Roman Bednar came on as sub but Sparta headed well over Cech’s goal. Chelsea then played out the last few minutes in relatively uneventful fashion with only a brief goal mouth melee to deal with but Sparta did not even manage a shot despite applying some pressure briefly.
So in conclusion, it was a slightly subdued performance from the Blues but they got the away win and the away goal courtesy of the sensational Oscar winning 1-0 and for me, Fernando Torres was the man of the match so it was a good evening’s work overall with some clear positives to be taken from it.