Luiz 67, Mata 90+3
Chelsea began their annual quest for Roman Abramovich’s personal Holy Grail, the Champions League, with a victory at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from David Luiz and Juan Mata.
Failure in this competition has been a hallmark for the Londoners in recent seasons with the penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester United in Moscow’s rain-sodden Luzhniki Stadium in 2008 hanging particularly heavily over them.
The Blues have a new leader on this journey with Andrea Villas Boas making his first appearance in the competition as a manger. Would he be able to succeed where seven of his predecessors failed? Villas-Boas made a bold first step on the path to hoped-for success by trying to solve the Chelsea conundrum; are the Blues (a) an ‘experienced’ or (b) an ‘aging’ side?
The team sheet seemed to suggest that Villas-Boas was going for answer (b). While the Manchester clubs are scoring for fun, Chelsea have not exactly been top of the list for entertainment this season. The team’s key weaknesses has been a lethargic midfield and so, out went Frank Lampard. Perhaps more surprisingly, John Terry was jettisoned too – indeed, the England skipper was not even on bench.
It was a cute move by the manager. If things had not worked out he could re-instate the pair for the weekend’s big Premier League clash with Manchester United, claiming he had been resting them mid-week and that modern football is a squad game. Yet, perhaps there will be no need, as his gamble seemed to have largely paid off. Chelsea played with a flair and dynamism not in evidence in their performances so far this season.
It is clear Villas-Boas recognises that the team needs to be rejuvenated. His summer purchases of Raul Meireles and Juan Mata were evidence of this as was the inclusion of David Luiz ahead of Terry.
Chelsea had the ball in the net in the third minute but Torres’ effort was disallowed as Meireles was offside. A slightly harsh decision, perhaps but, if Meireles had not been there, the goalkeeper would have collected easily. However, it was not all Chelsea in that early, frenetic period. Just 34 seconds earlier, Leverkusen also had a goal disallowed as Simon Rolfes’ header was disallowed for a foul by