Picture the following scene: Chelsea, with six changes from the debacle at St. James' Park, are playing like rubbish against a side they demolished in Germany two weeks ago. The midfield is wasting possession and not doing much to get it back, the defence so totally out of whack that they allow both Julian Draxler and Adam Szalai free shots in the first ten minutes. The only one who actually seems to doing anything is Andre Schurrle, and he probably only cares because it's his birthday.
Then our good and dear friend Timo steps in. The Schalke goalkeeper had plenty of time to clear the ball downfield, but he dawdled in possession, waiting for one of his midfielders to move just so, and in doing so somehow failed to notice Samuel Eto'o streaking towards him like a hungry lioness to a tasty gazelle.
By the time Hildebrand saw the danger, it was too late. He tried to kick the ball clear anyway, but it bounced off the Cameroonian's foot and trickled lazily into the net to give Chelsea a 1-0 advantage. It would later transpire that Jose Mourinho gave the order for Eto'o to charge the goalkeeper down (in Spanish), which makes the whole thing even funnier.
A lead makes everything easier, and Hildebrand's Howler lifted Chelsea out of the trough of incompetent misery and onto the lofty mountains of happiness. Everything started clicking, and the result was never again in doubt.Sure, it would have been easier had Draxler, who was already on a booking, been dismissed for a nasty two-footed lunge on Eto'o at the stroke of half time, but the Blues managed the rest of the game pretty comfortably.
Draxler could have changed said comfort with a shot just after the break which Petr Cech tipped behind for a corner, but that was to prove the last time the Germans offered any sort of threat. After pressing the John Obi Mikel-Ramires pivot hard for most of the first half, they were a spent force, and Willian spent much of his time merrily dancing past through whomever he happened to square up against.
One of those runs led to the second goal. Willian pounced on a loose ball near the centre circle, spun around Christian Fuchs, and with the Schalke defence collapsing slipped Eto'o in on the right. Eto'o then took a touch before rifling a shot into the far corner, leaving Hildebrand helpless.
The goalkeeper did manage to keep it becoming 3-0 a few minutes later when Willian picked out Schurrle in a similar situation -- the birthday boy's shot was a little too central and Hildebrand was able to parry clear without any of the lurking blue shirts latching onto the rebound -- but it was pretty obvious that there were going to be more goals in the game.
On came the substitutions. Kevin de Bruyne and Demba Ba, both in everyone's good books thanks to not being involved over the weekend, took the pitch. It was a good time to be a Chelsea player, because Schalke were utterly spent as a footballing force and were mostly spending their time picking up silly yellow cards. Indeed, Ba was able to open his Champions League account within ten minutes of coming on.
It was a typical Ba goal, combining awesomeness and awkwardness in equal measure. A long ball from Cech went forward. Ba fell over (under pressure from Joel Matip, admittedly) in trapping it, but was able to scramble it to Willian while going to ground. Willian fed Lampard, who clipped a neat pass over the top of the defence for the back-on-his-feet Ba. The striker met the ball with a twisting, slightly mishit volley that dribbled into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.
The 3-0 scoreline, combined with Basel's 1-1 draw at Steaua Bucharest, means that Chelsea are in excellent shape to finish first in Group E. They're three points ahead of Schalke with the tiebreaker guaranteed, and four up on Basel. That means that a draw in Switzerland will be enough to clinch qualification, and even if the Blues don't manage that, three points at home against Steaua means a first place finish no matter what.
Not a bad day's work.