First Blood In The Champions League

A late goal from Juan Mata rounded off another opening day victory in the Champions League, after a brilliant strike from David Luiz had broken the deadlock in Andre Villas-Boas’s first game in charge in Europe.

With the game against Manchester United on the weekend in mind this was a decent result after many of the regular starters were given a rest, as Villas-Boas surprised everyone by resting the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard.

On the other end there was an emotional return to Stamford Bridge for Michael Ballack, his first return to the Bridge since the departure in the summer of 2010, and was awarded with a commemorative silver plate by Bruce Buck before the start of the game.

After starting on the bench against Sunderland on the weekend, Fernando Torres was back in the starting line-up and immediately sprung into action after his effort, resembling a somewhat overhead kick, went just wide of the goal.

However, it was Leverkusen who had the ball in the first, but it was ruled offside, although it was unclear what prompted the officials to give that decision. Chelsea followed this up with their own disallowed goal after a back flick by Torres was put into the net by Raul Meireles, but this time it was correctly ruled offside, even though it was uncertain if Meireles touched the ball, but he was definitely in an offside position.

Michael Ballack had the best chance to open the scoring for Leverkusen, but his free kick was straight on the wall, and that was about it as far as Leverkusen’s attacking threat goes for the half.

Daniel Sturridge looked in fine form as he forced the Leverkusen keeper into a save from a fierce shot from distance, and then later again tried his luck again but his shot went just wide.

Chelsea were totally dominating the possession with Obi Mikel having a fine game in the middle as he seemingly maintained control of the ball and made vital interceptions, whilst Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata provided the creativity and sharpness up front.

Part of this domination was also helped by Chelsea having a very strong left hand side on the pitch wherein Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda and Juan Mata, all combined very well throughout the game.

The second half started with Michael Ballack again having the chance to open the scoring, as he was played through on goal after some nice one touch football on the left hand side, but under pressure from Bosingwa and with Cech surging towards him, he didn’t have the time to open up his body and take a proper shot in what was the best chance of the match so far.

Petr Cech was again forced into save just minutes later by Schurrle, who was perhaps the best player for Leverkusen on the night.

After this initial hurrah by Leverkusen at the start of the second half, Chelsea again regained control of the game and started to play their own game.

And with just over an hour gone, it was time for Villas-Boas to ring in the changes as Frank Lampard and Nicholas Anelka were called into action in place of Raul Meireles and Daniel Sturridge, who was having a good game, meaning this represented somewhat a pre-planned move. At the same time, Michael Ballack was also substituted to a standing ovation from the whole ground.

Just as the former German Captain went off, Chelsea scored in the next minute courtesy of a wonderful strike from David Luiz. After going on a trademark marauding run from the back, much like what Ricardo Carvalho used to do, and laid it off to Ashley Cole, he continued his run and when Torres set it up for him; he curled an immaculate shot into the bottom corner.

With Luiz’s name resonating from the stands, the Brazilian made it a point to acknowledge the contribution of Torres in the goal by pointing towards him.

Even after going behind, Bayer Leverkusen hardly threatened the Chelsea goal, and it was the Blues who looked to get another goal to seal the game, as a Mata shot was tipped over the bar by Leno.

And it was Mata only who then got the late goal to shatter any hopes of Leverkusen getting a late equaliser. A sprint by Torres down the left against a tiring defence meant that he was through on goal, and with an opportunity to open his account in front of him, the striker unselfishly squared it to Juan Mata who made no mistake.

The two assists would have done a world of good to Fernando Torres’s confidence and also gave Villas-Boas something to give back to the press, as the striker made a meaningful contribution to the team.

It remains to be seen what composition does the manager chose for the big game against Manchester United, but at least he won’t be short of options with many players putting up their case with decent displays.

Andre Villas-Boas insisted that his team selection wasn’t a gamble and was delighted with the performances of his players, he said; “We have a very, very competitive squad and a tremendous calendar in front of us.

“I think this decision has to be taken bearing in mind the amount of minutes people collect internationally and the amount of talent that we have at our disposal.

“The team that we selected today was a team that gave us comfort to win the game and that’s what we did.”

He added: “Everybody has been amazing in this effort to absorb all of these new ideas. I’ve very happy with everyone.”

Chelsea: Cech (c); Bosingwa, Ivanovic, D Luiz (Alex 75), Cole; Meireles (Lampard 64), Mikel, Malouda; Sturridge (Anelka 64), Torres, Mata.

Scorers David Luiz 67, Mata 90+1.