A brace from Fernando Torres helped Chelsea establish a commanding 3-1 advantage from the first leg of their Europa League quarterfinal with Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
Torres and Victor Moses had put Chelsea 2-0 up inside the first 32 minutes before the Russian visitors responded before half time with a Bebars Natcho penalty following a handball by John Terry. But Torres’s goal 20 minutes from time makes Chelsea strong favorites to secure a place in the last four when they head to the Luzhniki Stadium next week.
With his side playing their third match in six days, Chelsea understandably made several changes from the lineup that beat Manchester United on Monday. The inclusion of Torres was enforced due to the ineligibility of Demba Ba, but the Spaniard’s performance this time merited his inclusion.
With just 16 minutes gone David Luiz showcased his superb passing range to create the first goal as he chipped a ball over the Rubin defense toward Torres. Although the masked Spaniard’s initial control was poor before falling to the turf in a challenge with Roman Sharonov, he was still able to poke it into the net.
Rubin briefly threatened with midfielder Natcho firing two long-range shots at goal that forced Petr Cech into action.
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But just past the half-hour mark, Chelsea looked to be heading toward a comfortable first-leg advantage as they doubled their lead.
Rubin contributed to their own downfall as Sergei Ryzhikov made a meal out of saving a header from Moses and when the ball eventually bounced back to the Nigerian on the edge of the box he lashed it into the top corner.
Yet five minutes before the break, Rubin found an avenue back into the match.
Left-back Cristian Ansaldi fired a shot at goal from the edge of the box that struck John Terry’s arm away from his body, giving referee Gianluca Rocchi little choice but to point to the spot.
Natcho was the man given the responsibility with the penalty and he calmly sent Cech the wrong way.
And Ansaldi almost caused further problems on the stroke of half time with a strike from distance that just curled inches wide of Cech’s post.
Chelsea began the second period brightly as they looked to restore their stranglehold on the tie. When Moses knocked the ball onto Juan Mata inside the box, it appeared that they might do just that but, although the Spaniard didn’t perhaps strike his left-footed effort quite as cleanly as he would have liked it still took a fine low one-handed save from Ryzhilov to keep the ball out.
Rubin manager Kurban Berdyev had looked to add firepower to his side at the break with the introduction of Salomon Rondon. It was their top scorer in the competition that had his side’s first clear opening of the half, but Rondon shot tamely straight at Cech after creating space for himself on the edge of the box.
Chelsea were soon to pull clear again, but not before Rubin had a second penalty appeal for a handball by Terry. This time the award would have been harsh on the Chelsea captain as the ball bounced up of his leg and struck his hand.
The home side immediately took advantage of the decision as they surged up the other end. And, while there had been an element of fortune about his first, Torres emphatically took the chance for his second goal. Mata was the supplier with a fine cross into the center of the box and Torres well before powering an unstoppable header into the net.
There was little action of note in the remaining minutes as Rubin were unable to get a second away goal to give themselves a much better chance in the return leg, while Chelsea seemed content not to push for a goal that would have all-but sealed the tie.