London - Chelsea shook an unexpected loss to Newcastle United out of their
system by overcoming Schalke 3-0 on Wednesday to close on a place in the
Champions League knockout phase.
The London club had seen a
six-game winning run ended at St James' Park on Saturday, but they got
back on track by reasserting their control of Champions League Group E
with their 100th victory in UEFA competition.
Timo Hildebrand gifted Samuel Eto'o the opening goal with a dreadful
error and the Chelsea striker claimed a second shortly after half-time
before substitute Demba Ba added a late third.
It was a repeat of
the scoreline from when the sides met in Gelsenkirchen two weeks ago and
it left Jose Mourinho's side three points clear of Schalke at the top
of the group with two matches to come.
Chelsea can now qualify for
the last 16 with a draw in their next match at Basel, whose 1-1 draw at
home to Steaua Bucharest in the other group game took some of the sting
out of defeat for Jens Keller's Schalke.
Mourinho had threatened
to make "11 changes" after the 2-0 loss at Newcastle; in the end he
restricted himself to six, with Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, John
Mikel Obi, Willian, Andre Schurrle and Eto'o coming in.
squad has been ravaged by injury this season, but it was Chelsea who
looked like a team of strangers in the opening stages as the Germans
went close on three occasions.
Julian Draxler clipped a shot
narrowly wide of the left-hand post from the edge of the box, with Adam
Szalai and Christian Fuchs also threatening from distance.
settled, however, and only a sinew-straining save from Hildebrand
prevented Schurrle from breaking the deadlock with a venomous, dipping
Sadly for the German goalkeeper, his next contribution would prove far more memorable, and for all the wrong reasons.
34-year-old inexplicably took an age lining up a long kick, allowing
Eto'o to ghost in from wide on the Chelsea left and block the ball the
moment it left his foot, sending it rolling into the net.
Eto'o's first goal in the competition for Chelsea and he tested
Hildebrand again before half-time with a volley that skidded off the
There was an early warning for Chelsea in the second half,
Petr Cech brilliantly palming a left-foot shot from Draxler around his
right-hand post, but in the 54th minute the hosts extended their lead.
Eto'o's first goal was fortuitous, his second was superb, with Willian
stealing past Fuchs and squaring the ball to the Cameroonian, who
finished with aplomb.
Hildebrand did his best to shrug off the
taunts from the Chelsea fans behind his goal by saving from Schurrle,
but Ba had the final say with an adroit left-foot volley from fellow
substitute Frank Lampard's pass.
Chelsea are now assured of a
place in the Europa League, the competition they won last season after a
group-phase exit in the Champions League, but the chances of them
having to defend their title seem remote.