Careless Chelsea get a rude awakening against Schalke
Chelsea 1-1 Schalke 04
There have been many occasions when Jose Mourinho has driven his team on in the closing stages of a European tie in search of the goal that will change the match — but nothing typified his desperation last night like the scurry down the touchline to retrieve one long Schalke clearance into touch.
The Chelsea juggernaut that has cleared a path through the Premier League this season had been stopped embarrassingly in its tracks by a German team in domestic disarray, 16th in the Bundesliga and without a win yet this season.
It was hard to understand just how Chelsea failed to win this game, other than that even the most depleted opponent will try to find a way back into a game if one conspires to miss as many opportunities as Mourinho’s team did.
Given the chance to put the Germans away after Cesc Fabregas’ goal in the 10th minute, they failed time and again and in the end paid the price.
There was a marvellous symmetry to the two goals — a foul by Fabregas had been crucial in him scoring for Chelsea.
A foul on Fabregas was crucial in the build-up to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s equaliser.
Making the first start of his second spell at the club, Didier Drogba failed at least three times to find the net when presented with good opportunities to do so.
It could be worse. This time last year, Chelsea lost at home to Basel in their first group game and still made the semi-finals.
It should have been over by half-time against a Schalke side that looked every inch the club that has one point from three games in the Bundesliga, with a deficit of confidence and a surfeit of injuries.
In those opening passages of play, Chelsea dominated, never more so than down the left wing where Eden Hazard demonstrated to the German right-back Marco Höger that a football pitch can be desperately lonely when you are forever finding yourself in the wrong place.
Like a man arriving seconds late for a departing bus, Höger time and again found himself watching as Hazard left without him.
The dominance that Hazard exerted in that area of the pitch alone should have ensured more goals for Chelsea, yet as it was the only one they went in with at half-time should never have stood.
It began when Schalke centre-back Roman Neustadter passed short to Max Meyer, the playmaker in midfield. Fabregas tried to get a toe in to nudge the ball away but Meyer clearly got there first and all that Fabregas caught was the Schalke man.
It was a badly-timed, late challenge and in many circumstances it would have been a booking but Croatian referee Ivan Bebek, a late appointment, waved play on.
Hazard then picked the ball up on the left and slipped Fabregas in for his first Chelsea goal from inside the box.
The Schalke captain on the night, Huntelaar, was booked for his protests.
The road was open for Chelsea to pin Schalke back and inflict the damage that most expected to come.
But the next decent chance they created was almost half an hour after Fabregas’ goal.
Branislav Ivanovic crossed for Fabregas and, unmarked and with a clear sight of goal, he side-footed over the bar.
Mourinho’s players did not take advantage of the opportunities that came their way at the start of second half, or rather Drogba did not.
Hazard’s excellent long ball from the left set Drogba free but his first touch did not set him well. He managed to get his boot around the ball but placed wide of goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann’s far post.
There was always a danger that the top-quality elements in Schalke’s team would combine to cause Chelsea damage.
So it proved on 62 minutes when fortunes switched with Fabregas fouled in his own half and losing possession.
Huntelaar, who committed the foul, fed Julian Draxler whose brilliant run forward left Ramires swaying in his slipstream. Huntelaar had made up ground in the left channel, got the return ball, stepped inside John Terry and with a right-footed shot beat Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea missed further chances and at the end the Schalke players celebrated as if they had won the Champions League.