Nov 7, 2012, 5:53 PM EDT
Two Shakhtar Donetsk gifts an a 94th minute winner from substitute Victor Moses took three points for Chelsea on Wednesday, the defending champions pulling even with the Ukrainians at the top of UEFA Champions League’s Group E.
Seconds away from being relegated to third place in a group that also includes Juventus, Moses headed a corner kick into the upper-right hand corner of Andriy Pyatov’s goal giving the hosts their third lead of the game.
But Chelsea would have never been in position to steal the point had it not been for two Shakhtar errors you’d rarely see in at college level. In the sixth minute, a poor backpass from defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy left Pyatov little recourse but to blast an attempted clearance off the leaping Fernando Torres, the resulting ricochet settling in the back of Shakhtar’s net.
In the 40th minute, after Willian had pulled Shakhtar even, Pyatov’s ill-placed header left him standing outside his area as Oscar put an 40-yard shot into an empty goal.
Man of the Match: It’s rare that this honor goes to a player on the losing team, but when that team has to fight back from two aberrational goals, you’re likely to see a number of superior individual performances from the team left empty-handed. On Wednesday, Fernandinho put in another great performance in Shakhtar’s midfield, Darijo Srna constantly stressed the left side of Chelsea’s defense, and Willian, our Man of the Match, gave the Blues more reason to regret not buying him this summer.
Then, the Brazilian winger was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, though the rumor never became more than a vague link between player and club. His continued presence in Donetsk helped Shakhtar carry an unbeaten record into today’s game, a mark his two middle-of-the-area finishes nearly preserved.
In the ninth minute, Willian opened his right foot on a ball from Fernandinho, the resulting shot beaingt Petr Cech into the right side of goal. In the second half, a near identical play (this time, the ball from the right coming from Darijo Srna) gave Willian his second goal of the night.
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Chelsea’s come back down to earth.
The Blues’ high-flying start to the Premier League season has long past, not only in terms of results but also form. They were second best today but, to their credit, managed to get full points. Still, Wednesday’s performance falls in line with a series of discouraging results the Premier League’s former leaders have accumulated over the last month: losing at Shakhtar; losing at home to Manchester United; drawing at Swansea City.
As they did under Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, and Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea started the season strong. And as has been the case over recent seasons, they’ve regressed.
Resiliency rounds out Shakhtar’s contender’s resumé.
At this point, nobody questions whether Shakhtar are capable of competing in Europe. At least, on the fringes. Are they going to compete for Champions League? No, but they’re going to give somebody a lot of trouble in the quarterfinals, if not beyond.
At those levels, talent isn’t always decisive. A series of extra-athletic factors distinguish teams from each other, one of which is the ability to respond to the inevitable adversity you’ll face during a long tournament.
Today, Shakhtar demonstrated that trait, twice coming from behind on the road at the tournament’s holders, coming within minutes of salvaging a result they’d nearly given away (twice). Moses’s last gasp goal took a point out of their hands, but based on what we saw on Wednesday, time was the only thing that kept them from again responding to adversity.
Chelsea’s defense needs help.
The ease of Shakhtar’s responses has to concern Roberto Di Matteo. Except for Moses’ goal, each time Chelsea scored, Shakhtar quickly responded, basic buildup down their right leading to simple goals from Willian. Is that all it takes to breakdown a Chelsea defense these days?
The last time Chelsea kept a clean sheet was Oct. 2 at Nordsjaelland. In the five games that followed, they’ve conceded 11 goals. Handed three leads on Wednesday, they conceded two.
Giving up goals is one thing, but giving up leads is slightly different. Today, Chelsea had two chances to do as they did during last year’s run and lock down a match. That they couldn’t do so at home in an important game is more concerning than the increasingly ugly numbers.
Packaged for takeaway
- John Terry started on the bench and was working on a stationary bike at one point during the match; however, the Chelsea captain didn’t play.
- Ryan Bertrand got the call in place of Ashley Cole at left back, combining with Eden Hazard to create a very vulnerable left flank. Shakhtar right back Darijo Srna had his most influential match of the tournament.
- Despite their effort, Chelsea’s midfield of John Obi Mikel and Ramires had trouble covering the space demanded of them by Shakhtar’s passing. They needed help, but with Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata in front of them, there was little to be had. In the second half, Oscar started dropping to Ramires’s level, the team forming a 4-1-4-1 shape with Mikel in front of the defense.
- On an otherwise quiet day, Luiz Adriano provided some nice holdup play for Shakhtar, who resorted to using their No. 9 more as Chelsea pushed for a late goal.
- If there were Player of the Group awards, Fernandinho would be the heavy favorite to win Group E’s.
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