CaughtOffside were invited to witness Chelsea secure yet another victory on the opening night of the UEFA Champions League
On Tuesday night, Chelsea began their fifteenth consecutive year in European competition at home to Bayer Leverkusen. Chelsea rested their captain John Terry completely, whilst Frank Lampard began on the bench. The Germans finished as runners-up in last year’s Bundesliga and thus earned a place among Europe’s elite for the first time since the 2004/05 season. They are a team on the up; young and driven, but with valuable experience in Michael Ballack and Simon Rolfes. The former was presented with a commemorative plaque before the game out of respect for his time with the club and he received a rapturous applause.
Chelsea have never lost their opening Champions League game, and they almost got off to a terrible start. After just 4 minutes Rolfes bundled the ball in at the back post from Omer Toprak’s flick on. However, the referee spotted an infringement, signalling for a push and awarded a free kick to the hosts.
Just moments later Chelsea had a goal of their own ruled out, this time for offside. Ashley Cole’s ball in from the byline was flicked goalwards by Fernando Torres and new boy Raul Meireles back heeled the ball in to the net. However, the replays showed that the Portuguese midfielder was in an offside position following Torres’ flick.
Chelsea were looking dangerous down the wings. Cole and Juan Mata were constantly looking to penetrate the Leverkusen defence down the left, whilst Jose Bosingwa and Daniel Sturridge did the same on the opposite flank.
With 10 minutes gone, Torres had his first real chance of the game. After receiving the ball from Mata, he tried to beat the defenders into the box but seemed to reluctant to pull the trigger. His shot was then saved by Bernd Leno, the 19-year-old goalkeeper on loan from Stuttgart.
Leverkusen were struggling to forge any attacking momentum of their own. They were containing Chelsea but Stefan Kiessling looked isolated in attack.
Torres and Malouda both saw headers go behind with close to 20 minutes played and soon after the tempo slowed and the game became somewhat stale. In fact, there was more entertainment from the touchline with Andre Villas-Boas extremely animated in urging his team forward.
The visitors had a good spell of possession at the half hour mark but again failed to produce anything despite Andre Schurrle looking fairly dangerous. They almost paid for their lack of creation when Sturridge forced a good save from Leno with a powerful shot from 20 yards out. The keeper got down low to his left to turn the England Under 21 international’s effort away for a corner.
Sturridge had another attempt from distance just before the break, however his effort drifted narrowly wide of the post. Chelsea had look far more likely to score in the first half but the Germans had got what they hoped for in keeping the tie goalless at half time.
With 7 minutes gone in the second half, Sturridge had another couple of opportunities. The first was a tame header following a ball in from Bosingwa, on the second he was thwarted by Leno who reached the ball moments before the striker after a flick on from Torres.
Torres himself had an effort saved by the young German goalkeeper in the 57th minute. It did not seem as if Leno had spent last season playing in the third tier of German football as he was giving an extremely good account of himself.
Leverkusen then responded immediately with some intricate football that enabled Ballack to find himself one-on-one with Petr Cech in the area. The Czech international was equal to his former teammate’s effort and Chelsea were let off the hook.
Chelsea followed up with another chance for Sturridge, but he could not find the corner off of Cole’s ball in to the back post, with Leno getting a strong hand to it and palming it away. Sturridge was surprisingly substituted moments later along with Raul Meireles. The pair had arguably been two of the best players on the pitch for the Blues but it seemed to pay dividends soon after.
In the 68th minute David Luiz surged forward with the ball giving impetus to mount an attack. The ball found it’s way into the box and Torres laid the ball off for Luiz who bent a tremendous right foot shot into the bottom corner. Moments like that are what has truly endeared him to the Chelsea fans despite only being at the club for 8 months.
Mata had a couple of chances to enhance upon his side’s lead with 20 minutes to play but Leno again kept the scores tight as he produced some strong saves to keep the Spaniard at bay.
Luiz then limped off with 15 minutes remaining and was replaced by his international compatriot Alex.
Chelsea had the ball in the net again in the 81st minute after Nicolas Anelka headed in from Florent Malouda’s cross. After a moment of elation the players noticed the offside flag had been raised in an extremely questionable decision.
Chelsea were unperturbed and in stoppage they finally got their second goal in a Spanish combination. Torres broke through beyond the defensive lines and carried the ball goalwards. As Leno came out, Torres laid the ball to Mata who stabbed the ball into an open goal to secure the victory for Chelsea.
The hosts eventually got their win against a resilient German side. Leverkusen’s defensive organisation and steel will hold them in good stead as they look to qualify with from the group, however Chelsea’s class and experience saw them trough in the end and they showed why they are favourites to win the group. The team has been improving with every game and will hope for further progression when they take on the reigning champions of the English Premier League, Manchester United, at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch