Chelsea started the game with a 1-0 advantage gained last week in Prague where Oscar scored the winning goal. Before the match Benitez was definitely thinking ahead to the Premier League clash with Manchester City as he rotated his squad, resting Lampard and Ivanovic giving starts to Moses, Bertrand and Azpilicueta.
As in the first leg in Prague, it took a touch of class from a substitute to help the Blues score only this time it was Hazard who ironically replaced last week’s hero Oscar.
The match started with a great opportunity for the positive looking Chelsea but Torres missed a decent chance to score. Moses showed his athletic abilities and swept down the right hand side beating his man, he then passed to the Spanish striker who missed the target. The same thing happened again just a few minutes later, with Mata instead of Moses supplying the ball (this time) to the misfiring Torres who managed to knock his attempt over the bar from inside the 6 yard box.
Against the run of play, Sparta then managed to equalize. With the Blues not paying attention, Sparta took advantage of Chelsea’s relaxed attitude at a free kick on 17 minutes. As the Blues defenders back-pedaled, the ball was quickly moved to Kadlec who beat Cahill before delivering a perfect pass to Lafata, who dispatched the ball into the top of the net from just outside the 6 yard box making the score 1-0 on the night and 1-1 on aggregate.
Torres was seemingly cursed on the night as he had numerous chances. He even had a decent penalty shout which was not given. His seeming lack of concentration in front of goal has become a kind of strange trademark for the Spaniard this season.
The second half began with a more motivated looking Chelsea appearing probably as a result of a few direct words from the manager. Ramires went close, hitting the post with a deflected effort only a minute after the restart and then JT almost scored too with a surprisingly skillful flick from a free-kick.
As Chelsea failed to turn their dominance in possession into goals the Czech team’s play improved seeing them go close with a few chances of their own. Benitez then made what turned out to be another inspired substitution, this time he replaced Oscar with Hazard with about 25 minutes to go much to some of the crowds discontent.
As extra time looked increasingly likely Prague went close to putting the tie to bed but Cahill made a key block to deny a Kadlec attempt and Cech had a good night against his former team. Then with the game in injury time, it was Hazard who rose to the occasion as he found a little space on the edge of the box before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Tomas Vaclik in the Prague goal, equalizing on the night and making Chelsea’s one goal advantage from the first leg stand up.
Considering the importance of their upcoming premier league match against Manchester City, the Blues would not have wanted to play extra time and Hazard saved them the hassle with his superb winner reminding everyone just what a talent he is.
Torres’s lack of efficiency in front of goal was alarming as he was unable to add to the solitary goal he has scored in his last 14 appearances, managing to miss at least 6 decent chances on the night. Benitez played this down suggesting that Torres had played a good team game but it is clear that Torres sadly is just not the player he used to be.
So the Blues booked their place in the last 16, where they will now meet Romania’s Steaua Bucharest after they beat Holland’s Ajax on penalties.