Blues supporters have been very vocal about their displeasure with Rafa Benitez, but there's something to be said for the club still being alive for two trophies. Plus, Chelsea has the chance to become the first club to win the Champions League and Europa League in that order in consecutive seasons.
Fixture congestion was a bit of a worry coming into the match. This was Chelsea's third game since March 30. It didn't look to be a problem as things got going early, due in part to the fact that Rubin didn't really go out on the attack.
Rubin manager Kurban Berdyev made it clear what his strategy would be by keeping Salomon Rondon. The Venezuelan striker has scored six goals in 10 European games this season.
Without its primary scorer, Rubin was just looking to hunker down and try to snatch a vital away goal.
Its plan came a bit undone in the 16th minute.
David Luiz unleashed a very good long ball up to Fernando Torres in the box. Torres made a nice run to create some space between himself and the defender, and when the ball fell to him, he eventually bundled it into the net.
It wasn't a pretty goal, but give credit to the striker for being aware enough to poke it in while he was on the ground.
Tom Adams of Eurosport was very complimentary of Torres' performance early in the game:
This is the best Fernando Torres has played for a long time. Actually looks, yes, confident. A rabona for god's sake.— Tom Adams (@tomEurosport) April 4, 2013
If a one-goal hole wasn't bad enough, Rubin had trouble clearing the ball out of their own box 16 minutes later. Victor Moses had a header palmed away by Sergei Ryzhikov, who reacted quite late. The ball was kicked around the box and eventually fell to Moses, who fired in a nice half-volley for Chelsea's second goal.
Chelsea gave Rubin a major lifeline in the 41st minute. It was determined John Terry handled a shot in the box by Cristian Ansaldi. The referee awarded a penalty to Rubin Kazan and gave Terry a yellow card. Bebras Natcho sent Petr Cech the wrong way, making it a 2-1 game.
John Cross of the Daily Mirror believed the penalty decision to be just, but the yellow card was a bit questionable:
Feeling in the press box that it was a penalty but booking was a bit harsh. 2-1 #cfc— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) April 4, 2013
Prior to the goal, Rubin had been looking a little better in the attack, but Chelsea was clearly the better side of the first half. Giving up an away goal like that was a harsh hand to be dealt.
The match slowed down quite a bit in the second half.
Juan Mata had a nice effort knocked away by Ryzhikov in the 49th minute. In the 60th minute, Chelsea saw John Terry try to get on the end of a corner to score, but he mishit it and the ball landed on the top of the goal.
It was Torres once again who was the man of the moment 71 minutes into the match. In what was a frenetic 30 seconds, Terry avoided what would have been a harsh penalty shout. This wasn't a match where Terry covered himself in glory, as Luke Moore of The Football Ramble pointed out:
How much of a liability out of ten has Brave John Terry been so far tonight?— Luke Aaron Moore (@lukeymoore) April 4, 2013
Nothing was given and Chelsea then went on the break.
Torres received the ball up top and held it well, waiting for the cavalry to arrive. Juan Mata ended up with the ball as Torres drifted into the box. Mata delivered in a very good cross, which Torres headed home.
That third goal is critical going into the second leg at the Luzhniki Stadium. Having a one-goal lead does not inspire confidence, especially given that away goal. With that two-goal lead, though, Chelsea players can feel a little more comfortable. Should the Blues get an away goal of their own, that's likely enough to get them through to the semifinals.
Although Chelsea went into a shell for much of the second half, it was a deserved win. The club wasn't great on the night, but never looked like the lesser side.
The Blues will welcome in Sunderland this Sunday. With the lead, Benitez was able to save a few key players for the Premier League fixture and take off Moses and Mata with time to spare. Every match at this stage is critical toward the Blues' hopes of holding on to a Champions League place.
Key Player Grades
Fernando Torres: A+
Say what you want about Rubin Kazan and the Europa League, but Torres had a fantastic game. Rather than simply bash him for only playing well against supposedly second-rate European teams, the striker should simply be praised for his performance.
Of course, the two goals locked up the man of the match award for Torres, but he had a very good all-around game. He got himself into good positions by timing and placing his runs well and was good in facilitating attacking opportunities for others.
Victor Moses: A-
Moses was subbed off for Eden Hazard in the 65th minute. It was a bit of a curious decision with so much time left. The winger had been one of the Blues' best attackers.
His goal was very well-taken. Moses got himself in a good position on the fringe of the penalty area to take advantage of any chance that might fall to his feet, and one eventually did.
Moses also delivered a nice pass to Mata for his chance early in the second half. Certainly one of the best players on the pitch.
Juan Mata: B+
It was yet another classy performance from Mata. He was the engine in the Chelsea attack.
Mata was credited with an assist on Moses' goal. Credit him for keeping the play alive, but giving him an assist there is a bit generous. The midfielder certainly deserved one for Torres' second goal. He put the cross exactly where he needed to, leaving Torres with a simple finish.
While Mata was very good, he wasn't great—hence the grade. He should have done a little better with his shot in the second half and it's not as if he was completely unplayable on the day.