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Chelsea put 5 past Schalke to secure knockout stage berth

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VI-Images / Contributor

Of all of Chelsea's 19 matches so far this season, none has been quite so pleasant as this. Schalke 04 are not a good side, but they're still Champions League opposition, and away from home could easily have caused us some real problems. Heck, they caused problems at home -- the reverse fixture was 1-1 -- and going into the match the talk was all about how the Blues could end up in the Europa League if they weren't careful.

Two minutes in and it was more than obvious that this game was going to mark the end of hostilities in the group stages. By that point, Chelsea were 1-0 up, a John Terry header from a Cesc Fabregas corner floating past Ralf Fährmann, and looked primed for more. In fact, the Blues looked capable of scoring at will for almost the entire match, with the only downturn coming in a brief period after halftime. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable outing.

There was, however, a slight scare at 1-0. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting took a speculative effort from outside the box -- Cesar Azpilicueta and Nemanja Matic had both gone slightly walkabout, and the ball clipped off Gary Cahill's leg and up over Thibaut Courtois. Everyone in the Veltins Arena froze for a split second before the shot's tumbling flight was met by the woodwork. The relieved defenders scrambled clear.

From then on it was one way traffic. There were several opportunities to double the lead before we finally managed to do so through Willian, who ended a marvelous team move with a clanger of a shot which triggered a clanger-ier effort from poor Fährmann. Played in by Eden Hazard after a neat series of first-time passes, the Brazilian ended up hitting the ball a) not very hard and b) straight at the keeper. Imagine his relief, then, when Fährmann virtually scooped the ball into his own net rather than make the straightforward save.

Worse was to come for the hosts. After Fährmann made a good stop from Oscar's acrobatic volley, Chelsea got their (approximately) 5,000th corner of the game, and Jan Kirschoff took it upon himself to send a powerful header -- under no pressure at all, it must be said -- into the back of his own net. 44 minutes had gone and Schalke were well past the point of no return.

There was a brief dip after halftime as the Blues took an extended breather, but after a substitution or two the procession got started once again. Branislav Ivanovic just missed with what would have been the goal of the night on the hour mark. Having met an extraordinary Willian cross with a thumping volley, the right back was disappointed to see the ball buzz inches beyond the far post with Fährmann well beaten.

He didn't have long to dwell on his miss, however. Chelsea kept pushing players forward and were rewarded with a quickfire double to kill the game once and for all. Both were scored by substitutes, with Didier Drogba (on for Diego Costa, who somehow failed to score in this one) grabbing the fourth before assisting Ramires on the fifth.

Both were things of beauty. Cesc Fabregas' brilliant long ball over the top found both Drogba and Willian breaking the offside trap, and, two-on-one against Fährmann, it was simplicity in itself for Willian to square to his senior colleague for his fourth goal of the season. Drogba's turn at provider was equally pretty -- his cross from deep on the left was superbly shaped, leading Ramires onto the ball at the back post brilliantly. The finish didn't need to be emphatic, but was anyway, a bullet header that the Ivorian himself would have been proud of.

There were chances to rack up still more goals, but Schalke, through some combination of skill and luck (mostly the latter, one would suspect), managed to keep us to five. Oh well: 5-0 was more than enough to secure top spot in Group G with a game to spare.

The really worrying thing, from our opponents' perspective, is that Chelsea have cruised through their first 19 games with barely a blip and are starting to find a new gear on top of that. If this form keeps up ... well, watch out.