Chelsea kicked off its quest for an elusive Champions League
title with a 2-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen courtesy of
second-half goals by Brazil defender David Luiz and Spain winger
Juan Mata on Tuesday.
Luiz produced the kind of finish that had proved beyond his
team’s misfiring strikers in a hard-fought Group E opener by
running onto Fernando Torres’ lay-off and bending a sublime strike
into the bottom corner in the 67th minute.
Torres was also the provider for Mata’s goal with seconds
remaining, breaking free down the left and unselfishly setting up
his international teammate for a easy tap-in when he could easily
have gone for goal himself to break his drought this season.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas chose to rest captain John
Terry and midfielder Frank Lampard – two of Chelsea’s stalwarts for
the past decade – with Sunday’s Premier League match against leader
Manchester United in mind, and that decision almost backfired
despite the hosts dominating for large parts.
Indeed, Leverkusen will look back on missed chances by Michael
Ballack, the former Chelsea midfielder, and Andre Schurrle when the
score was 0-0 as turning points, although Villas-Boas felt it was
the right result in the end.
”How many chances did we have?” said Villas-Boas, who is under
pressure to deliver a first Champions League title to satisfy the
demands of billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
”We have to be fair and say Leverkusen went one on one with our
goalkeeper before we scored but we had numerous chances throughout
the game. We made a very good collective effort throughout and we
deserved to win.”
Fresh off leading Porto to the Europa League title last season,
Villas-Boas made the step up to the Champions League for the first
time, with one of his remits undoubtedly to end the club’s barren
run in Europe’s elite competition after a host of near misses.
Chelsea has reached the semifinals of the competition in five of
the last six years, losing to United on penalties in the 2008
final. And considering Abramovich’s obsession with the Champions
League, it was a brave call to go without Lampard and Terry for a
match against one of the main rivals in the group.
”I think it was a fair decision considering the amount of
talent we have in our squad. It would be a mistake for me not to
try to keep everybody motivated and exploit the talent of
everybody,” Villas-Boas said. ”I don’t see any braveness in
Leverkusen – the Champions League runner-up in 2002 – was denied
a goal after less than three minutes when Simon Rolfes’ close-range
header was ruled out for an earlier push by Omer Toprak but was
otherwise on the back foot in the first half.
Even taking into account the Schurrle and Ballack chances which
were well saved by Petr Cech, Chelsea’s captain for the night,
Leverkusen was a clear second best.
”I must say Chelsea deserved to win but we gave a good
performance,” said Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt. ”We showed we can
cause a team like Chelsea problems.”
Raul Meireles, the replacement for Lampard, stood out in
midfield and had a goal disallowed for offside less than a minute
after Rolfes’ ruled-out effort.
Torres toiled up front on his recall to the team after being
dropped against Sunderland on Saturday, creating a couple of
half-chances for himself in the first half but again looking bereft
of confidence with just one goal to his name since club-record 50
million pound (then $81 million) move from Liverpool in
He did, though, create both of his team’s goals.
”I was happy with his effort for the team,” Villas-Boas
The home crowd had grown increasingly frustrated by the time
Luiz, marauding forward as Brazilian defenders often do, ran onto
Torres’ pass and finally beat Bernd Leno, the 19-year-old
goalkeeper who performed stoically.
Strengthened by the introduction of Lampard and Nicolas Anelka
from the bench and with a previously flat atmosphere suddenly
energized, Chelsea asserted its authority and Mata, collecting an
Anelka cut-back, saw his fierce shot tipped over by Leno.
The Spain international claimed his goal, however, with seconds
remaining in an ultimately fruitful night for Chelsea.