Torres fires but Chelsea complete humiliating comedown
Chelsea 6 Nordsjaelland 1: Somewhere much warmer than west London in December, they will be recalibrating the satellite on Roman Abramovich's favourite yacht to make sure that they can get a decent signal for the broadcasting backwater that is ITV4. Relax, Mr Abramovich, your Thursday-night viewing is all taken care of.
From the glory of May to the Europa League in less than seven months, it has been one hell of a comedown for a club where the celebration murals from the Champions League final in Munich still adorn the outside of the stadium. As it turned out, Chelsea finally hit their stride last night with six goals and a first win under Rafael Benitez while their fate was being sealed in Donetsk with Juventus' 1-0 win over Shakhtar.
The Europa League is not what Abramovich planned for, but then this has been a chaotic calendar year: two managers sacked, two trophies won, Champions League group stage elimination for the first time in the club's history and they may yet reach Christmas as the official champions of the world. Welcome to Chelsea, where despair comes hot on the heels of triumph.
The roots of Chelsea's demise in the Champions League stretch back to the home draw in the first group game against Juventus when they threw away a two-goal lead, a significant moment that Petr Cech acknowledged after the game. This European campaign has become Benitez's problem, but it began under the regime of Roberto Di Matteo when crucial points were dropped against both Shakhtar and Juventus.
Two of the goals tonight came from Fernando Torres, the first time he has scored more than one in a game since his hat-trick against Queen's Park Rangers in April. Yet there were two first-half penalties awarded to Chelsea, both for handball, and the Spanish striker declined to take either. History has it that Torres just does not do penalties. With his current strike-rate he can hardly afford not to.
It was a good performance from Chelsea but given that their opponents took around £1m in transfer fees to assemble it really should have been. Asked what his experience of the Champions League had been, the Nordsjaelland coach, Kasper Hjulmand, replied: "A lot of beatings".
Benitez was understandably relieved to get his first win in spite of the bad news from Ukraine. It all starts again on Saturday away at Sunderland where he needs his first league victory to smooth the way for the trip to Japan where Chelsea could be playing the Fifa Club World Cup final a week on Sunday. It was a rocky start tonight.
Much of it was down to the Dutch referee Bas Nijhuis, who, with his winter tan, and slicked-back hair, got himself in rather a pickle in the first half. He awarded three penalties for handball, all of them dubious, the first of them to Nordsjaelland which Petr Cech saved. Had that one gone in then the pressure would have been on Chelsea.
Victor Moses was a threat on the right wing in the first half in particular, and Nordsjaelland lost their Croatian defender Ivan Runje to injury in the first 10 minutes. They held out nonetheless, for almost 40 minutes, sometimes with a little fortune. Their captain Nicolai Stokholm deflected a cross from Moses against his own bar.
With Chelsea in control, but jittery in front of goal, the home side conceded the first of Mr Nijhuis's dodgy penalties when Gary Cahill was judged to have handled Anders Christiansen's shot. His feet were outside the area when the shot struck him and his arm almost certainly was. It was Stokholm who took the penalty and Cech, as he has done so often, dug Chelsea out of a hole with a great save to his right
Three minutes later, Chelsea had a penalty of their own when Cahill's downward header was judged to have struck the arm of the substitute Mikkel Beckmann. Again, it was a questionable decision. Eden Hazard, in place of the regular penalty-taker Frank Lampard, struck a poor shot, Jesper Hansen saved and 35 minutes in there was still no goal.
When the third penalty for handball arrived it seemed like Nijhuis might have some kind of obsessive disorder. This time it was Patrick Mtiliga who was judged to have handled Juan Mata's shot. Again it was questionable. Enter David Luiz, who put the ball on the spot and proceeded to embark on the kind of run-up that a medium-fast bowler might favour, before drilling a shot past Hansen.
Chelsea deserved their lead and they had another in injury-time at the end of the half. Moses slipped in Torres and although his first shot hit Hansen he nimbly skipped over the goalkeeper, kept his feet, and tidied up with a neat finish.
There was a major embarrassment within 20 seconds of the start of the second half when Kasper Lorentzen picked up the ball in midfield from the kick-off and cut Chelsea's defence in two with a ball into the space behind Branislav Ivanovic. Running on to it was the Dutch 24-year-old Joshua John who did a nice job of beating Cech.
It was five minutes after Chelsea scored their third – a header by Cahill from Mata's free-kick from the right – that news came in of Oleksandr Kucher's own-goal in Donetsk that eventually gave Juventus their win over Shakhtar. Benitez's side scored a fourth around that time, a sequence of passes between Hazard and Torres opening up a run down the left for the Belgian. His cross was finished at the near post by Torres.
Hazard combined with Mata who scored the fifth after his first shot was saved by Hansen. Oscar, on for Ramires, scored a sixth; a goal made by Mata. Torres had a couple of chances to score his hat-trick and Nijhuis should have given him a penalty when he was pushed in the box. By the end of the game, Chelsea had made 20 attempts on goal and Nordsjaelland were willing the final whistle, but the atmosphere was muted.
They are out of a competition that the Chelsea support have taken great pleasure in declaring their supremacy over the three months or so of the season so far. The song goes, "We know what we are, champions of Europe, we know what we are." Chelsea in the Europa League? That sounds like an identity crisis in the making.
Man of the match Mata.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee B Nijhuis (Neth).