We know what we were…
Cue the anti-Rafa chants as Yossi Benayoun’s name lit up on the stadium’s LED screens. It’s Europa League time again, and Marko Marin was licking his lips in anticipation. He probably joined the fans’ jeers after realising even he hadn’t been selected to start. Fernando Torres was brought into the first eleven however, whilst Juan Mata had four defenders to keep him company on the bench.
In Benitez’s defence, he’d fielded a more than capable side to show the Romanian team an early exit from the tournament. With John Terry, David Luiz, Frank Lampard, Oscar, and Eden Hazard all in the line-up, expectations were high – that was until a deflated performance from the Champions of Europe stifled the atmosphere in the Stadionul Ghencea.
In the 34th minute the home fans were finally able to wave their flags and matchday scarves when referee Sergei Karasev awarded their side a penalty for a less than convincing foul by Ryan Bertrand. Naturally, the official’s decision made the half time headlines – continuing this week’s theme of English teams’ European injustice.
In terms of performance the second half brought much of the same for Chelsea. Marginally controlling possession, the London side faced a frustrating 45 minutes, as their attempts to feed Fernando Torres were hindered by Fernando Torres.
The struggling striker did actually manage to find Hazard with a header, but the Belgian’s shot rose above the bar. So too did Luiz’s free kick which was awarded outside the box with just minutes remaining.
1-0 seemed set to be the final result until Marin was finally given ten minutes to make a difference. It finished 1-0.
The Daily Telegraph, Paul Kelso: “Chelsea’s season keeps getting harder. The European champions, whose defence ended earlier than any previous holders, are now in danger of dropping out of the booby prize early too.”
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Europe was supposed to set Rafael Benítez apart but at present it is merely adding to his angst. Chelsea were beaten again here and must now turn over a deficit in next week’s return leg in London if they are to force passage beyond Steaua Bucharest into the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Recovery is not beyond them in the tie but, with a wounded Manchester United to come on Sunday and their own confidence bruised, a pervading sense of anxiety persists.”
The Independent, Simon Johnson: “No matter what Rafael Benitez tries as Chelsea’s interim first-team manager, it always seems to backfire. Just a couple of days after the club’s chief executive, Ron Gourlay, warned him that finishing in the Premier League top four was a must, Benitez is on the verge of failing in another cup competition.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “The Blues will have to overturn a 1-0 deficit at Stamford Bridge next week if we are to progress into the Europa League quarter-finals after a Raul Rusescu penalty proved the difference between the two sides at the National Arena.”