Rubin Kazan schmoobin Kazan, am I right? Atletico Madrid's vanquishers proved not much of a match at all for Chelsea, going down without a hint of a fight at Stamford Bridge and setting up what should be a pretty relaxed return leg in Moscow as the Blues look to progress to the Europa League semifinals. Better yet, Chelsea did it without playing their first-choice lineup, managing to rest several key players ahead of the must-win weekend game against Sunderland.
It was a forced change, however, that made the biggest difference. Demba Ba, whose acrobatic finish knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup on Monday, is cuptied, so Fernando Torres came back into the side. And played really well, as it turned out.
Wearing a protective mask, the result of a Lukas Szukala boot to the face during our last Europa League adventure, mild-mannered 'nando Torres had become the mighty Zorres*, swashbuckling sabre-wielder and arch-enemy of Rubins worldwide. Where a non-masked striker might have failed to bring balls down, hold up possession or make inteligent runs, the wonder that is Zorres did all that plus much, much more.
Not even sitting on the ball could stop Zorres from scoring. His 16th minute run behind the centre backs was met by a fantastic long pass from David Luiz. It might have actually been too good a pass -- the delivery got tangled up in Zorres' feet and he ended up falling onto it, completely flummoxing both Sergei Ryzhikov and Roman Sharonov, who were left helpless when the ball popped out again and Zorres poked home from his backside. 1-0 Chelsea.
It was deserved, too. Although the visitors were doing their best to press Chelsea's back four, they had a hard time preventing us from moving the ball around and as a result were constantly under the cosh. The early goal had apparently filled the Blues with confidence. Zorres aimed an incredibly optimistic cross at Juan Mata and to make matters even more insulting he delivered it via rabona. And then we were treated to the implausible spectable of Ryan Bertrand dancing through three defenders to go one-one-one with Ryzhikov only to get bored of the whole thing and hit the ball at a defender.
A second was coming, and it arrived via Victor Moses in the 32nd minute. Cesar Azpilicueta's cross was met by a bouncing header from the Nigerian, and although Ryzhikov clawed it away, Zorres recycled possession and his blocked shot was hooked back in Moses' direction by Mata. He was in plenty of space, and needed no further invitation to double the lead, shinning his volley into the back of the net.
Down 2-0, Rubin were forced to come out of their shell and attack a little bit, and to their credit they did manage to annoy the Chelsea defence as we got closer to the break. One attack, sparked when Bertrand was caught out of position, was ended thanks to a second ball being rather suspiciously chucked out onto the pitch, but the Russians took that in stride and soon had a vital away goal.
I'm not entirely sure how John Terry was supposed to get his arm out of the way of Cristian Ansaldi's shot, but apparently not doing so constituted a grave offence and Gianluca Rocchi pointed to the spot. Petr Cech is a fine saver of penalties, but he didn't have a prayer against Bebars Natcho's effort, which was smashed high into the back of the net and sent him the wrong way for good measure.
At 2-0, the tie looked comfortable; 2-1 was a less helpful scoreline. Fortunately, despite the introduction of Salomon Rondon, whom you may remember as a potential Chelsea target last summer, Rubin seemed content with what they had and didn't force the issue too much, allowing the Blues to regroup from conceding the penalty and press the attack once again.
Moses and Mata came close to scoring thanks to a David Luiz-powered attack only for Ryzhikovto deny the the Blues their third of the game with an impressive stop, and we were treated to the weird spectacle of John Terry driving through the centre while flicking the ball to himself to an overhead backheel thing. Sadly that attack came to nothing, because haha what.
Rafa Benitez apparently decided he was bored of the 2-1 business and played his trump card, throwing Eden Hazard into the mix 66 minutes in. That was both mean and extraordinarily effective, and Chelsea soon managed to extend their lead. Through Zorres, of course.
Rubin were appealing for another penalty when Roman Eremenko's shot hit Terry in the box, but this time there was nothing doing and Blues shirts flooded forward. Eventually the ball made its way to Mata on the left side, and his teasing effort allowed Zorres to steal in between the centre backs to smack a header past the utterly helpless Ryzhikovto, and suddenly it was 3-1.
I'd like to pretend that much of anything happened in the final twenty minutes, but all we got was Hazard making Rubin defenders look like idiots and short (haha!) cameos from Marko Marin and Oscar. The visitors never looked like getting what would have been a fairly vexing second away goal, and Chelsea were able to cruise to full time. Bring on Sunderland!