Thursday, 11 April 2013

Rubin Kazan 3 - 2 Chelsea: Match Report

Well then. We're through, and that's all we wanted. Even better, we didn't really have to push very hard, and got to rest most of our important players "away" to Rubin Kazan, who were playing 500 miles from their home in front of a crowd of only a few thousand. It's never nice to lose, of course, especially through such poor defending, but we never really looked in danger. There were very few moments where Chelsea felt pressured to the point of breaking. At the end of the day, we coasted home in 2nd gear and through to the Europa League Semifinal.

The match began about as well as could be expected for Chelsea, with Frank Lampard delivering a lovely 5th minute pass over the top for Fernando Torres, who ran onto the ball, chipped the keeper -- who had come out a recklessly-long way -- and scored after several nervous bounces. After that, the teams went further into the shells in which they had started the match. Chelsea largely focused on defending soundly and deep, while Rubin were more positive in their approach.

Through the rest of the first half, there was little in the way of a major action. Rubin attacked consistently, and Chelsea repelled them easily. In fact, the two biggest stories of the half were unrelated to scoring chances. The first was Rafa Benitez' shock divergence from his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation. The Spaniard chose instead to field his side in an odd, fluid style which at times resembled a 4-5-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-3-2-1, 5-4-1, and 3-6-1. It's hard to know if the style was intended to be so fluid, or if it was evidence of a lack of a pre-determined plan. Either way, it was the most tactically-interesting thing Rafa's done in a decade.

The second biggest issue, and the much-more concerning one was the way Chelsea's defenders -- John Terry particularly -- were being regularly drawn out of position by the Rubin attack. In a way, it was foreshadowing the events of the second half. Rubin were never really close in attack in the first half, though. They had a few chances, with the best coming moments before the half, forcing Petr Cech into one of his now-famous wonder saves.

Going into the half, Chelsea looked comfortable. They were easily-repelling Rubin's attack, they had their away goal, and could concede two goals without fear of going out or facing extra time. Chelsea had fielded a fairly-weak team, particularly in attack. Ryan Bertrand's illness had forced Paulo Ferreira to deputise for the left-back deputy. There were even starting spots for Yossi Benayoun and youngster Nathan Aké.

As the second half began, Rubin were playing yet more positively, and Chelsea's attack was drying up more by the minute. It's a pattern we've seen many times with Chelsea this season, but there little to worry about. Until the 51st minute, anyway. John Terry gave away a poor corner, which was headed in by Rubin's Marcano. The Chelsea defence should have done better, but they were still putting in minimum effort.

The Rubin goal spurred Chelsea into action, at least temporarily, and it paid off quickly. As the Blues brought the ball up the field on the counter, they tore through the Russians' defence. The ball eventually fell to Ramires, who laid off the ball smartly to Victor Moses on the edge of the area. The Nigerian did well to chip the keeper toward the far post, and was rewarded with Chelsea's second goal. At this point, Rubin needed four goals to win, due to Chelsea's away goal advantage.

While Chelsea began to push for the third to completely-seal the match, they soon fell back into the now-familiar pattern of the match, with Rubin pushing, and the Blues defending with, perhaps, less care than they ought to have. To potentially fix that, and to prevent him getting injured or suspended for another yellow card, Ramires was sacrificed for John Mikel Obi.

The substitution backfired somewhat for Rafa, as the Nigerian's introduction seemed to disrupt what defensive understanding had been established. Rubin made Chelsea pay for that disruption, scoring in the 62nd minute through Karadeniz, who broke away from Aké to get on the end of a cross after Cesar Azpilicueta was caught out badly. It, like the first, was a good header, and Chelsea could have no complaints about it.

What they should have done, though, is take it as a sign to shut up shop before the Russians got back into it. Moments later, though, Marcano was allowed another free header, but the Spaniard's shot fell inches wide. Chelsea were still comfortable, though. At least until Cesar Azpilicueta conceded a very soft penalty, which featured a bit of embellishment. Unfortunately, though, it was still a penalty, which Natcho converted to put Rubin ahead on the night.

Chelsea, however, were still ahead 5 - 4 on aggregate, and holding the away goal tie break. Rubin had 15 minutes plus stoppage time to find a pair of goals. They didn't, but not for lack of trying. Salomon Rondon should have equalised late on, but his shot was wide. That was the best of the chances for Rubin, and Chelsea limped home to the final whistle and into the semifinal.

If Chelsea had ever got out of second gear, the result might have been worrying, but their weak-ish squad selection and generally-energy-saving lack of push meant they weren't ever really in danger. If you'd asked Rafa before the match his three biggest objectives on the night, he'd probably have told you "Advance to the semifinal, avoid injuries, and avoid suspension" Chelsea managed to achieve all three tonight, so it's hard to be angry about the actual match result.

Chelsea coasted through the second leg to win on aggregate, not having to use Juan Mata or Eden Hazard at all ahead of the FA Cup Semifinal Sunday against Manchester City. As I mentioned, we also managed to avoid injury and also burning out the players who did take part.  All in all, it's hard to see tonight as anything but a positive. Yes, there were issues defending, but I believe them to be relics of the energy-saving performance. If there was anything we needed ahead of a City match, it was an easy advancement. We got that. Rejoice!

No comments:

Post a Comment