Sparta Prague 0-1 Chelsea

Chelsea began their love affair with the Europa League in unconvincing style, but Oscar’s goal eight minutes from time meant Chelsea head back to London with something to hold.

It was a match fit for Europe’s inferior competition, and with temperatures cold in the Czech Republic, no side looked up for it.

This was in spite of the strong line-up Rafael Benitez announced, picking eight of the players who started against Wigan to play back-to-back matches, whilst Petr Cech felt the love on returning to his former club.

It was a match played with perhaps too much respect, with both sides tremendously jaded and lazy.

It was down to Oscar to give the travelling fans something to smile about just seconds after coming on as a substitute, scoring his sixth goal in seven games in European competition this season. It means Chelsea have now scored in all but one of their last 21 European games.

The tie hardly carries the same hype as against Barcelona or one of Europe’s top dogs, and Chelsea clearly did not fancy a trek to eastern Europe.

Sparta Prague neither showed the determination in a big match for them, with both sides nullifying each other in the opening stages.

Eden Hazard continued his weaving style with strong exchanges, but Torres was neither awake nor competent enough to latch onto anything significant.

Lafata, making his competitive debut for Sparta Prague, showed the hunger Torres lacked, and on two occasions gave the Chelsea back-line moments of concern.

The first was a volley when he managed to beat the offside trap, firing over first-time, much to Petr Cech’s relief. The second volley was fired just past Cech’s goal.

In between those Chelsea should have broken the deadlock. Neat play by Mata found Torres, who tangled his feet up and the proceeding shot lacked power and conviction.

By starting back-to-back matches, the Spaniard highlights Chelsea’s lack of forward options, especially with Demba Ba ineligible. You wonder if Torres would even get into a side lower-ranked than Chelsea.

Between any attacks were large parts of possession. Sparta was happy to not go anywhere with the ball, passing horizontally, whilst Chelsea failed to knock at their door.

Yossi Benayoun was the man Benitez hoped could inject some life into his flailing side, but the out-of-favour Israeli failed to capture the eye.

The next substitution did prove to be inspired, however. In the 24 seconds after coming on for Juan Mata, Oscar managed to outshine all his team-mates in the 80 minutes they had played thus far, playing a one-two with Torres, before slotting home past Vaclik.

More could have come through Fernando Torres, who saved his best effort of the evening for the dying stages, but Vaclik got out a powerful right hand this time.

This may not be as glamorous as the road to Munich, but Chelsea have edged one foot closer towards the road to Amsterdam.

Match Stats

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