This match turned out to matter. Chelsea had top spot in Group G well and truly wrapped up after the romp in Gelsenkirchen two weeks ago, but despite there being nothing really up for grabs for them when Sporting Lisbon came to town, the Blues still put on an impressive show, running out comfortable 3-1 winners and thoroughly outclassing the Portuguese outfit.
It even managed to contain some elements of drama. Nobody goes away from a game in which John Obi Mikel scores a goal -- his first ever in the Champions League, incidentally -- dissatisfied, and when you pile Ruben Loftus-Cheek's seven-minute debut onto the equation this might have been the most memorable dead-rubber match in our history.
But before we got to the tail end of the game, we had to crush all vestiges of hope from a Sporting side that needed to get something from this match if they were to avoid the prospect of having their group stage destiny decided by Maribor's home game against Schalke. The Primeira Liga side would have been buoyed by a series of key absences (Thibaut Courtois, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian were all rested), but if they thought that Chelsea's second string were going to be easy prey, they were soon proved quite miserably mistaken.
Mohamed Salah, making his first start since the Blues' League Cup win against Strawberry Town, did superbly to retrieve a forward ball from Nemanja Matic before checking back and feeding Filipe Luis. The Brazilian steamed into the box, drawing Ricardo Esgaio into a challenge that looked as though it had come straight from an ice rink. The ball was missed, Luis was sent sprawling and the Norweigian referee pointed to the spot. Just the five and a half years late on that one.
With Hazard out, Cesc Fabregas took on penalty duties, waiting for Rui Patricio to make a move before stroking his shot straight down the middle. It was 1-0 Chelsea and, with the Blues rampant, it felt unlikely that we wouldn't be able to add a few more goals to that scoreline.
André Schürrle got the second, breaking a scoring drought that lasted back to the Manchester City match in the process. It might even have been worth the wait, too. It looked as though a quick-flowing move from the left was about to break down when Diego Costa and Schürrle got into a bit of a muddle in the middle, but the World Cup winner kept hold of the ball spun, and fired into the bottom corner from just outside the area.
At 2-0, the only question was how many more Chelsea would score. Patricio had a lot to do with keeping us at bay -- he saved superbly from a Scürrle volley and denied Salah with his fingertips in the second half -- but it was fairly clear that Sporting were toast.
For a little while after the break, thought, it didn't seem like they had noticed. Indeed, the next goal fell their way. Filipe Luis failed to deal with a cross, and neither Schürrle nor Cesar Azpilicueta had the height to clear at the back post. The German got a head to the delivery, but could only nod weakly in the direction of Jonathan Silva, whose shot flew past Mikel and found the corner with Cech entirely helpless.
No matter. The Blues responded with a collectors item. Filipe Luis won a free kick off André Carillo on the left wing in a dangerous position, and Gary Cahill managed to flick Fabregas' pass on at the near post. The ball evaded everyone and was met by none other than Mikel, who found himself all of a yard out with an open goal. It was impossible to miss (if he had, Matic would have scored anyway), and so he didn't, and Chelsea had their two-goal cushion back.
Was he offside? Maybe. Do we care? Absolutely not.
All that was left was the promised debut of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, which arrived 83 minutes in when he came on for Fabregas. The midfielder's first touch was poor, but he more than made up for it with the next 13. He might have had an assist with a clever pass to Loïc Rémy, and he came reasonably close to scoring in injury time when he rounded Patricio but was flagged for offside (he hit the side netting anyway). Sure, it would have been great for him to mark his first appearance with some sort of shiny statistic, but it was an impressive cameo anyway you care to slice it.
Next up: the draw. Chelsea can face any of Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Basel, Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk, and we find out which of that quintet we'll meet in the octerfinal on Monday. Yes, I just made that word up.