Chelsea ease past Sporting Lisbon to cap Group G run
Serious Champions League business begins for Chelsea in February after Jose Mourinho's men completed their unbeaten Group G campaign with a 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon.
The Blues had already qualified for the last 16 as group winners, with Sporting hoping to join them ahead of Schalke, managed by Chelsea's European Cup-winning manager Roberto di Matteo.
A Cesc Fabregas penalty and goals from Andre Schurrle and John Obi Mikel - his fifth goal in more than 300 Blues appearances - meant Sporting had to rely on Maribor avoiding defeat against Schalke.
But the Germans won 1-0 in Slovenia to advance to the knockout stages.
Chelsea had made six changes to the side which lost at Newcastle - the Blues' first defeat in 24 matches this season - but strolled to a 2-0 lead within 16 minutes.
Jonathan Silva pulled a goal back five minutes into the second half, but Mikel restored the two-goal advantage within six minutes.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, an 18-year-old midfielder who has been at Chelsea since the age of eight, came off the substitutes' bench for his debut with seven minutes remaining on what was a comfortable night for the home side.
Chelsea always appeared likely to win Group G, the only surprise was that their passage was not more comfortable.
The Blues opened with a draw with Schalke, who they beat 5-0 in Germany, beat Maribor 6-0, but drew the return and edged to a 1-0 win in Lisbon before Wednesday night's triumph.
Chelsea will face sterner tests when their quest for a second European Cup - and Mourinho's third with three different clubs - resumes, but first Hull await when the Barclays Premier League leaders return to domestic duty on Saturday.
Fabregas, who is suspended for the Hull match, was one of five players to retain their places following the 2-1 loss at Newcastle.
John Terry, Eden Hazard, Willian and Thibaut Courtois were rested altogether, given respite ahead of the congested festive schedule.
Filipe Luis, who came in at left-back, with Cesar Azpilicueta switched to the right, made his intentions clear from the start, rampaging up and down his flank.
The Brazil left-back nutmegged Ricardo Esgaio inside the area and fell over the Sporting right-back's out-stretched leg.
Referee Svein Oddvar Moen pointed to the spot and Fabregas' shot down the middle put Chelsea in front.
It was soon 2-0 as Nemanja Matic waltzed forward in the left channel and fed Schurrle whose low shot from the edge of the area was out of the reach of Rui Patricio.
The Sporting goalkeeper saved well as Schurrle mishit a volley and Matic curled over following good work from Mohamed Salah down the left as Chelsea strived for a third.
Their forward thinking left them vulnerable as Sporting played mainly on the break.
Islam Slimani headed wide and fell under the challenge of Azpilicueta, with penalty appeals dismissed.
Diego Costa, who Mourinho believes needs to sharpen up, had an effort blocked and then almost created an opportunity by bludgeoning a hole through Sporting's defence, but the ball would not sit up for him.
Sporting wanted their Champions League fate to be in their own hands and got a goal back when Schurrle failed to head clear a cross from the right.
Silva controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed into the bottom corner, beyond Petr Cech.
Any hopes Sporting had were quickly dashed as Chelsea's two-goal lead was swiftly restored, through an unlikely scorer.
Fabregas' inswinging free-kick was flicked on by Gary Cahill for Matic and Mikel to meet it on the line.
The Nigeria midfielder last season scored twice - his first goals after a barren streak of almost seven years - and was credited with the final touch.
Loic Remy and Ramires were introduced, for Salah and Schurrle, with anticipation building for the introduction of Loftus-Cheek, whose inclusion Mourinho felt showed Chelsea's academy was producing the goods.
Loftus-Cheek was readied and came on for Fabregas with seven minutes to play.
The midfielder showed some composed touches and was on the receiving end of an ugly tackle which earned Paulo Oliviera a booking.
He will remember his debut, but will have better nights to come.
Cech was at full stretch to save Silva's long-range effort as Sporting fell to defeat and had to be content with sliding into the Europa League.