Oscar came off the bench to save Chelsea in the first leg of their Round of 32 Europa League matchup with Sparta Prague. The midfielder found the net within one minute of his 82nd-minute substitution and the Blues held on to win 1-0.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez decided to field a pretty strong squad for the match, despite being in the midst of five matches in 16 days. He was clearly hoping to secure the victory to give himself some lineup flexibility for the second leg, and it worked.
While both clubs were able to generate a couple quality scoring chances in the first half, the finishing wasn't up to par. David Lafata had the best of the bunch as he broke free for a cross in the box, but couldn't put the shot on target.
The Blues seemed to be in firm control for the first portion of the match. Sparta keeper Tomas Vaclik was up to the task, however, picking up five saves in the half. Then, in the final 10 minutes of the opening 45, the tide began to turn in favor of the Czech side.
Sparta started to control the pace and created a few promising scoring opportunities. But they weren't able to seriously threaten Petr Cech, who was forced to make just a single save en route to a scoreless half for both clubs.
It was much of the same in the early going of the second half. Chelsea would be in control for a brief period of time, and then Sparta would gain the edge. But neither side was able to produce more than a wishful attempt toward goal.
Finally, Oscar was brought in with less than 10 minutes left in the match and provided some instant magic. He pushed right up the middle of the field, took a quick cut to the left and buried the shot in the net with ease.
Sparta had a few chances to equalize in the dying minutes, but weren't able to pull out the draw.
Frank Lampard (Chelsea): B+
Although Lampard's future with the Blues remains up in the air, the 34-year-old midfielder is still one of the club's most reliable players. He was a constant presence on the attack, helping generate several scoring chances.
Perhaps his best opportunity came midway through the second half when he had a clear header in the box, but could only direct it right into the waiting hands of Vaclik. He was dangerous, but unable to find the net for the Blues.
Fernando Torres (Chelsea): C
Another lackluster performance from the high-priced striker. Torres was in position to make an effort toward goal multiple times and just wasn't able to produce a shot that worried Vaclik. He lacked the first touch he needed all match.
It's just the latest example of Torres' inconsistency. Ultimately, it comes down to the mental side of the game. While his confidence in the final third was apparent before arriving to the Blues, it's dwindled ever since. He did set up the Oscar run, but they needed him to play better Thursday.
Vaclav Kadlec (Sparta Prague): B
Kadlec worked well with Ladislav Krejci to help Sparta stay on level footing with Chelsea throughout the match. He helped generate some pressure on the Blues back line, especially late in the first half, but they just couldn't convert.
He faded a bit in the second half, which is why he didn't receive a higher overall grade. Part of that was due to Sparta's overall inability to control possession in the second half. The Blues will have to watch out for him in the second leg.
Tomas Vaclik (Sparta Prague): B
Give Vaclik a lot of credit for stepping up when Sparta need him to. Although the Blues didn't force him to make any highlight-reel saves, there were a couple testers along the way. He never faulted and did a good job controlling rebounds.
The only shot the Blues did get past him was no fault of his own. Oscar was given far too much space to operate and he's not going to miss many point-blank chances. Vaclik was one of the main reasons Sparta is still in striking distance heading to the second leg.
Chelsea will welcome League One side Brentford to Stamford Bridge on Sunday for a Fourth Round FA Cup match. It's a replay after the Bees were able to earn a draw against the Blues at home.
Sparta Prague don't play again until the second leg of this matchup next Thursday. They will then take on Slovacko in Gambrinus Liga play. Sparta are currently in third place in the top Czech league.
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