An Oscar winning cameo – Sparta Prague 0-1 Chelsea
Prague was typically postcard picturesque in the build up to Chelsea’s visit with snow falling in the days before the fixture, but there was little to write home about for the travelling support bar perhaps tales of how they spent Valentine’s Day in, what is, a fantastic city.
Sparta Prague 0-1 Chelsea
The game itself rarely threatened to break out of the freezing deadlock that the temperature seemingly had installed of the game but there were chances for both sides and on another day, perhaps commentators would have been reporting on a five or six goal thriller, instead the mediocrity of a 1-0 victory for Chelsea dominates the English press. The opening goal should have come much earlier than the 82nd minute when Oscar, who had been introduced to the game a minute prior, skipped through Sparta’s defence and slotted past Tomáš Vaclík. In that moment the game was won, but the tie is very much alive for the return leg in London next week.
Vítězslav Lavička opted to go with Matěj Hybš at left-back instead of Manuel Pamić, giving the youngster only his third start this season, and with Jiří Jarošík absent with injury, Mario Holek dropped deeper to partner Ondřej Švejdík at centre-back. Winter signings Lukáš Vácha and David Lafata both made their debuts. Chelsea named a strong eleven, with Ashley Cole the only regular to find himself having to keep warm whilst sitting on the Letná bench. Torres, Hazard, Mata, Lampard and – who has been portrayed as the returning hero and box office draw – Petr Čech all started.
Chelsea started the better and the prior predictions of a whitewash looked to be on the cards as the visitors racked up five shots towards Vaclík’s goal, but only one found its way through to test Sparta’s goalkeeper. After that slightly nervy start, Sparta settled and soon found themselves on the front foot with Tomáš Zápotočný a surprising attacking outlet. It was the right-back’s dinked ball that caught Cahill and Ivanović at a standstill and with David Lafata bursting in, a first goal in the colours of Sparta seemed inevitable, but stretching to make contact, the international could only divert the ball well past the frame of goal. All in all it was a tough night for Lafata who uncharacteristically spurned a few chances.
The English side failed to create a chance of note after that until the second-half, as they sat back and allowed Sparta to knock the ball around with ease, but neither side really threatened.
After the break things barely improved in terms of quality but once again, there were chances; more shots went wayward, Torres stumbled and misfired again and Lampard headed straight at Vaclík. Leo Kweuke replaced Lafata and offered a more rounded threat to Chelsea’s back like, but a goalless draw looked to be the inevitable result until Oscar came on, nine minutes from time. To that point Marko Marin had looked Chelsea’s biggest threat; Eden Hazard saw plenty of the ball but was kept quiet as he floated around from one flank to the other and Juan Mata was far too discreet for a player of his immense quality. But when the Brazilian sauntered onto the pitch he decisively cut through the Sparta defence with a consummate ease that left everybody wonder why Hazard, Mata and Torres et al had failed to.
At Stamford Bridge next week, Chelsea should finish the job. But if Chelsea remain stoic and uninspired, then Sparta will have every chance of causing an upset. A bit like what happened over in Naples….
Highlights (101 Great goals): http://www.101greatgoals.com/gvideos/sparta-praha-0-chelsea-1/
Sparta: Vaclík – Zápotočný, Švejdík, Holek, Hybš – Kadlec, Hušbauer (85’ Bednář), Vácha, Matějovský, Krejčí (81’ Pamić) – Lafata (76’ Kweuke)
Chelsea: Čech – Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanović, Bertrand – Lampard, Ramires – Marin (68’ Benayoun), Mata (81’ Oscar), Hazard – Torres
featured pic: spartaforver.cz