Despite seventy-five minutes of well below-par football from the reigning champions of Europe, late goals from Juan Mata, David Luiz and Ramires added to a first-half successful strike from the aforementioned Spaniard to secure Chelsea’s first win of the new Champions League campaign when they travelled to København to take on Danish champions Nordsjælland.
From the off, it was arguably clear to see that this tie meant more to the Danes than it did to the current Premier League leaders; playing in their first ever competitive match against English opposition in only their second ever Champions League appearance, the club from the small North Zealand town of Farum – playing today in Parken, the national stadium, in København rather than their own Farum Park – saw today’s match as more of an important lesson in European football than an unfortunate nuisance as it seemed to be for the visitors.
Despite a bright start, the hosts soon looked nervy in defence, Victor Moses, starting for only the second time in his Chelsea career so far, almost putting the visitors ahead after only four minutes with his first involvement of the competition, rising high to meet Oscar’s chipped cross but failing to beat a strong Jores Okore in the Nordsjælland defence.
The formidable young defender would prove to be the thorn in Chelsea’s side for the majority of the match, refusing to be discouraged by the nasty head wound that he picked up in preventing Victor Moses’ opener and going on to put his body on the line on more than one occasion to keep Chelsea’s lead to just one goal until their late, David Luiz-initiated romp.
Eventually, nerves finally got the better of the Danes and allowed Chelsea to go ahead thirty-two minutes into the game after a lounging Enoch Adu was dispossessed by Fernando Torres, the Spaniard then swiftly moving the ball onto Frank Lampard who laid it off to an unmarked and unnoticed Juan Mata on the right hand side of the box to fire into the back of the net.
However, as daunting as it may be to go a goal down to the champions of Europe after half an hour of play, Nordsjælland didn’t lie down and give up. Instead, they fought until the nerves were clear to see on the faces of every Chelsea player.
After fine efforts from Mikkel Beckmann and captain Nicolai Stokholm midway through the second half, on-loan Dutch forward Joshua John, constantly one of the Danish side’s main attacking threats, almost leveled the scoreline in the most spectacular fashion when he forced Petr Čech into pulling off one of the saves of the competition so far, the Czech goalkeeper tipping the young Dutchman’s curling shot onto the post before substitute Mario Tičinović saw his blasted follow-up shot blocked by a sturdy Ashley Cole.
But equally as impressive as Nordsjælland’s attempted comeback was the way in which an underperforming Chelsea side responded, the European champions showing glimpses of the plucky, never-say-die attitude that won them the trophy last season. David Luiz gave the away side room to breathe when his beautifully struck free kick ricocheted off the post and into the back of the net past a stationary Jesper Hansen in the Nordsjælland goal with just over ten minutes left to play, and Mata’s second of the game and Chelsea’s third, a deft slot past Hansen from close range after slick passing play on the edge of the box, just three minutes later killed off any chances of a Danish comeback.
And Nordsjælland’s disappointment continued as the simplest of tap ins by Ramires on the goal line after being set up by fellow countryman Oscar made it 4-0 and ensured that the London side returned home with a comfortable-looking win by a margin that wasn’t wholly deserved.
As pundits love to say, “The scoreline doesn’t tell the story”, and that was more than true in København tonight. An impressive performance from one of the underdogs of the competition pushed Chelsea close to breaking point, and if it wasn’t for Čech’s miraculous save to deny Joshua John scoring a well-deserved equaliser for the home side mere minutes before David Luiz’s wonder free kick, things could have turned out very differently indeed.
However, in the end, the “real” Chelsea, the Chelsea full of flair and creativity that we’ve all loved to watch so far this season, finally showed up with little over a tenth of the game left to play, and a late flurry of beautifully worked and calmly finished goals guaranteed the reigning champions their first win of the new competition, instilling hope into players and fans alike that, with more performances like the last ten minutes and less like the first eighty, they should proceed from the group stages with few troubles at all.
As for the Danes, positive signs were aplenty from the clear underdogs of Group E. Former youth team captain and defensive maestro Jores Okore captured the attention of all watching with his match-saving tackles and impressive handling of Fernando Torres, whilst Joshua John, Morten Nordstrand and Kasper Lorentzen all impressed up front with strong attacking performances that on occasion left the Chelsea counting their blessings.
With two defeats out of two games and with another tough tie against last year’s Serie A champions Juventus coming up in three weeks time, there might not be much hope for the Danish champions on paper but, after their performance tonight, they too will have been filled with hope that they can show more of their quality to a world audience that seem to view them as far less of a threat than they really are.
Written by Ben Cullimore
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