Chelsea has given its supporters plenty of reasons to be disappointed this year, but a 3-1 victory over Steaua Bucuresti to avoid elimination in the Europa League proved that the team still has the ability to pull off impressive results in order to finish this season strong.
After losing the first leg of the matchup 1-0, the Blues returned to Stamford Bridge with ground to make up. Juan Mata evened the score on aggregate in the 33rd minute with a scrappy goal, but Steaua’s Vlad Chiriches knocked in a loose ball following a corner kick to regain the advantage.
After the visitors’ goal, Chelsea needed to score twice to advance. In this dire situation, it was no surprise that John Terry delivered the spark with a fantastic header off Mata’s cross in the 58th minute.
The Blues continued to press forward and show off their superior skill, and finally Fernando Torres came through with an excellent setup and strike from the center of the box to put his team through to the quarterfinals.
Throughout the match, Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar dazzled with their skill and creativity. Steaua was clearly outclassed and faced a noticeable talent deficit.
But Chelsea owns the more talented squad in nearly every match it plays. Lack of quality players has not been the main cause of the team’s disappointing Champions League campaign or its inability to compete for a league title.
The Blues have failed to meet expectations this season because of their inconsistency.
Matches in which the team is disinterested or plays down to the level of its competition have been too common this season.
In the first leg against Steaua, Chelsea had a 54-46 advantage in possession and nine shots compared to 10 for the Romanians. In the second leg, the Blues had possession for 59 percent of the match and outshot Steaua 18-8.
The inconsistency has been a serious problem in the Premiership as well. There are no clearer signs of the team’s erratic form than its results against last-place Queens Park Rangers this season: a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 defeat.
With an FA Cup tie with Manchester United, the remainder of the Europa League and the end of the Premiership still to come, Blues fans will be worried about their side’s ability to produce a dud in any match.
But the victory on Thursday was a sign of hope. It is unsurprising that Chelsea proved its superior skill, but conceding at the very end of the first half was a deflating event.
When the team came back onto the pitch for the second half, it had 45 minutes to produce two goals against a side that had no interest in going forward. This was a daunting task and offered Chelsea the opportunity to succumb to frustration.
Instead, the team showed resiliency and fought back. Terry’s leadership was key, and the prodigious talent of Hazard and Mata was crucial.
The comeback displayed the mixture of experience and skill that makes this Chelsea team dangerous but has also been absent in too many fixtures.
Going forward, the Blues must continue to trust their veterans and put Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in the lineup for important games. This will be important in ensuring the team remains consistent.
Impressive finishes in the Europa League and the FA Cup, in addition to a Top-Four finish in the EPL, would cap off a fine campaign for Chelsea. It may not meet the lofty preseason expectations, but it would leave plenty of positive outcomes to build on going forward.
All of this is well within reach if the club can continue playing up to its potential.