Chelsea eased some of the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho on Wednesday, with a 2-0 win over Porto at Stamford Bridge taking the Premier League champions into the last 16 of the Champions League. Going into the fixture needing at least a draw to progress, Chelsea got the job done with something to spare, thanks to an own goal from Marcon and a second-half strike from Willian. While Chelsea march on, Porto crash out and into the Europa League, thanks to Dynamo Kiev’s win against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which sealed the Ukrainian side’s place in the knockout phase.
The prospect of a place in the Europa League and yet another blow in a traumatic season had loomed large for Chelsea ahead of kickoff. Mourinho had insisted that he didn’t fear for his job if that was to become a reality, but he will undoubtedly be mightily relieved that he will not have to test that theory. And he will be even more pleased that, just four days after their eighth Premier League defeat of the season, at home to Bournemouth, his team have provided one of their best performances of the campaign.
Mourinho’s major decision ahead of kickoff was to leave Cesc Fabregas on the bench and start with a strong midfield of Nemanja Matic and Ramires, while also bringing Diego Costa back into the lineup in attack. And the changes worked a treat, with Costa playing a big part in Chelsea’s opening goal after just 12 minutes. The hosts certainly got the fortune Mourinho feels his side have been lacking of late, with Costa’s shot coming back off goalkeeper Iker Casillas and against defender Marcano to take it toward goal. While Maicon raced back and initially appeared to have done superbly to clear it to safety, the official behind the goal was in an ideal position to spot that it had indeed crossed the line.
The one disappointment for Chelsea on an otherwise excellent night at Stamford Bridge was a yellow card picked up by Matic, which means he will now miss the first leg of Chelsea’s Round-of-16 clash. But at least his side will definitely be in the draw for the next round.
That was effectively secured seven minutes into the second half. And Costa was again involved, this time holding the ball up well before laying it off to Eden Hazard, who cleverly picked out Willian to his right for the Brazilian to drill a shot low past Casillas at his near post. The goal was Willian’s fifth in the group phase, further confirming how important he has been in Chelsea progressing.
When the ball hit the back of the net, it also produced a beaming smile from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, something which has been seen all too rarely in his side’s struggling season. While Chelsea’s ills have hardly been magically cured, there is now room for some optimism ahead of a challenging Premier League fixture against leaders Leicester City next Monday.