Chelsea endured a frustrating start to their Champions League campaign, with Schalke fighting back to earn a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. The home side had looked on course to open with three points when Cesc Fabregas put them in front after just 11 minutes, much to the dismay of Schalke, who, with plenty of justification, felt the Spaniard had committed a foul in the buildup. But Chelsea, and Fabregas in particular, missed chances to add to their advantage and gradually allowed Schalke to grow into the game. Chelsea’s lack of ruthlessness proved costly just past the hour mark when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar capped a lightning counter attack by firing past Thibaut Courtois.
Having begun the season in such fine form, Jose Mourinho’s men were expected to be troubled little against a Schalke team that arrived in London without a host of first-team players, particularly in defense. German World Cup winner Benedikt Howedes and center-back partner Joel Matip were among those missing. But, likely with one eye on a key Premier League duel against champions Manchester City on Sunday, Mourinho decided to leave seven-goal striker Diego Costa on the bench and start with Didier Drogba for the first time since the Ivorian’s return to the club in the summer. There was, though, to be no fairytale repeat of his last start in a Chelsea shirt, when he scored the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final. Chelsea have all the tools to at least go very close to repeating that success this season, but Mourinho will be targeting a much better performance when they visit Sporting Lisbon in two week’s time.
Early on, it appeared it would be a comfortable outing early on at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea wasted an early chance to break the deadlock when a Drogba cross felt to Ramires at the back post, and the Brazilian scuffed his shot horribly straight at Ralf Fährmann. Just two minutes later Chelsea were in front, although with a huge amount of controversy. Schalke midfielder Max Meyer had possession deep inside his own half when he was clattered by a late challenge from Fabregas that got none of the ball, plenty of man and should have earned a booking. Yet play was allowed to go on and, in the blink of an eye, Eden Hazard had driven forward and nudged the ball outside a defender to find the man who had just committed the obvious foul, Fabregas fired past Fährmann to leave Schalke understandably furious and Huntelaar the recipient of a yellow card for taking his protests too far in the eyes of the referee.
Having got a major break to take the lead, Chelsea had clear chances to extend it. Drogba had a sight of his first goal since returning to Stamford Bridge when rising to meet a cross from Filipe Luis but could only direct his header straight at the Schalke goalkeeper. A far better opportunity soon fell Fabregas’ way. The Spanish midfielder, who has been so impressive since arriving from Barcelona, looked poised to hit the back of the net for a second time when arriving onto Branislav Ivanovic’s pullback in the center of the box, but he inexplicably lofted his effort high over the crossbar.
By the end of the half, it was the visitors looking more likely to get on the score sheet. Kevin-Prince Boateng twice threatened with fierce drives from 25 yards, the second forcing Thibaut Courtois to turn the ball wide. Courtois was somehow untested, though, right on the stroke of halftime after Julian Draxler superbly went past three Chelsea defenders but then failed to produce a finish to match.
The pattern for Chelsea so far this season has been to start slowly and then power away from the opposition after the break. This time it was the reverse. The decision to start Drogba, rather than Loic Remy, who scored on his Chelsea debut on Saturday, will be questioned, with the 36-year-old a shadow of the player Chelsea fans remember so fondly. After failing to get a touch to turn in Willian’s cross, Drogba then overran the ball when set through on goal by Hazard’s pass over the top.
Those misses proved costly. In what Schalke will see as a fitting reversal of Chelsea’s goal, in the 62nd minute the Bundesliga side were level. Fabregas was this time the man to be stripped of possession, with Huntelaar pouncing inside his own half. Draxler took over and drove forward unchallenged before returning the ball to his Dutch striker, who once more showed his lethal touch by striking though the legs of Gary Cahill and inside Courtois’ near post.
Draxler was now beginning to show why Arsenal tried to sign him in January and why there has been so much hype around the 20-year-old for so long. The goal led to Schalke’s best period of the game, with Draxler at the heart of it and displaying some glorious pieces of skill that will doubtless make his next YouTube package. Still, though, Chelsea had a chance to finish the evening on top, but Roman Neustädter did superbly to head off the line from Remy before Hazard blasted a volley into the Stamford Bridge stands.