Steaua Bucharest 1-0 Chelsea: First Half Pen Condemns Blues In Romania

By on March 7, 2013

Chelsea’s patchy form took another turn for the worse in the Europa League as they crashed to a 1-0 defeat in Romania.

Steaua Bucharest clinched victory courtesy of a 34-minute penalty in the capital, after Ryan Bertrand was adjudged to have fouled Raul Rusescu in the area. The forward converted the penalty and the goal proved to be decisive as Chelsea showed little in the way of a comeback. Marko Marin and Juan Mata- both appearing as second half substitutes- went close in the dying stages but could not find an equaliser.

Perhaps the performance as much as the result will worry Rafael Benitez and the travelling band of Chelsea devotees who made the long trip to Eastern Europe. Chelsea seemed bereft of ideas for much of the game whilst fans may point to the five changes that were made to the starting line up from Saturday’s 1-0 win over West Brom as an explanation.

Fernando Torres was restored to the starting XI as a result of Demba Ba’s ineligibility whilst John Terry, Ryan Bertrand, Yossi Benayoun and John Obi Mikel all accompanied the Spaniard coming into the team. Ramires and Victor Moses did not travel with the squad, whilst Ashley Cole and Juan Mata started on the bench.

The opening exchanges provided little in the way of entertainment; both teams struggling to impose themselves beyond the other’s back four. Bucharest took aim from long range but nothing that would worry ‘keeper Petr Cech, whilst Chelsea equally struggled to make an impact. The visitors looked most threatening from set-pieces however the first half was shaping up to be a rather immemorable one. Having exited Europe’s elite competition, this looked a far cry from the competition the Blues famously won for the first time last year.

The decision to award a penalty to the hosts in the 34th minute was a contentious one. As Iasmin Latovlevici crossed from the left, Bertrand kept tight to Rusescu and as the two rose to meet the ball the Chelsea full-back was deemed to have  illegally impeded the Romanian top-scorer. Cech did guess the right way but Rusescu’s effort was dispatched low and hard, notching his 23rd goal of the season.

Chelsea’s response was instant and the Blues enjoyed their best spell of the game in between going behind and the half-time whistle. Benayoun- who has been starved of first team opportunities in the Blue of Chelsea- had his side’s best chance of the half after neat play with Oscar. The Israeli did well to find himself room to shoot but his effort did little to trouble ‘keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu who forced it wide.

The Bucharest stopper was then at hand to keep out a Torres shot just before the break, but  Chelsea failed to carry their resurgence into the second half and in a way that we are not used to seeing, the Blues became predictable, showing a distinct lack of creativity or desire.

Bucharest took the initiative and continued to impress, not least through the efforts of Latovlevici who demonstrated the attacking intent of a certain Chelsea left back sitting on the bench. The full back continued to cause problems for Chelsea whilst Cristian Tanase went close to adding a second with a vicious drive from 20-yards.

With time running out and Chelsea clearly having run out of ideas, Benitez turned to Mata, introducing him from the bench in the hope the Spanish playmaker could change the game. So often Chelsea’s inspiration and always the model of consistency, there was little even this midfield maestro could do to change Chelsea’s fortunes. Hazard went close with 15 minutes remaining but the angle was tight and the effort appeared to be a result of desperation than anything else.

The Blues did enjoy a late flurry of activity as the Romanians retreated in a bid to make safe their lead. Marin was introduced and had the best chance of the game to level, but cutting in from the left the German’s shot was well saved by Tatarusanu.

David Luiz had a speculative free-kick that went over the bar but despite this little-too-late resurgence, Chelsea’s performance was limp at best and Bucharest for their endeavour certainly deserved their victory. Despite that now infamous night in Barcelona where Chelsea heroically held on to progress to the last year’s Champions League final, the Blues don’t have the best away record in European competition of late. Only four times in the last 13 attempts have they tasted victory.

Although with the home leg to come next week , Chelsea can still be confident of overturning the deficit and progressing into the quarter-finals of the Europa League. For now though, Manchester United await in another cup competition. Blues fans will be hoping the likes of Mata, Ba and Cole are restored to a full-strength starting XI for the clash at Old Trafford- the FA Cup could well be their last chance of silverware if tonight’s Euro performance is anything to go by.

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