It would be nice if we could play Maccabi Tel Aviv every day. So far we've faced them twice and managed two 4-0 wins; against the rest of the world ... well, you know the story. But dwelling on the negatives of the season so far after such a happy scoreline seems perverse: with this win Chelsea are now in decent position to advance out of Group G, and victory against Porto in a fortnight would mean that we'd do so as winners regardless of how things shake up in the other match*.
*Otherwise it gets complicated: let UEFA's rulebook be your guide for now.
That's not quite where we expected to be after a victory in Israel, because Dynamo Kiev pulled off an upset at the Dragao which keeps them in the hunt for the knockout rounds, but Chelsea did their bit, and that's what counts.
The Blues' first encounter with Maccabi featured some hilarious defending from both teams, and that's exactly what we saw this time around as well. Chelsea were obviously the better side going forward, but the back line was left completely exposed more than once, and if our hosts had had more of a cutting edge -- or really any cutting edge at all -- we wouldn't be nearly so pleased with the final score.
They had their chances. The 2nd minute saw Dor Peretz drift in between John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta (Gary Cahill, restored to the lineup for Kurt Zouma, had left the line to go chasing) for a free header; the Maccabi midfielder sent it over the crossbar. Eli Dasa wasted an equally good chance a little while last, blazing well clear of Asmir Begovic's left-hand post after a partially-cleared counterattack.
Chelsea seemed to be under the impression that their attacking players could stay up the pitch and leave defending to the defenders. This would have been more upsetting had it not proved broadly true -- Begovic kept his clean sheet, after all -- but despite the gambit working it made for some nervy moments. And worse, it didn't seem to provide much going forward. There was some neat flowing buildup play, sure (Oscar's backheel to Cesar Azpilicueta was particularly delicious), but more often than not it was wasted. Opportunities to shoot were repeatedly passed up, allowing the hosts to get back in numbers and kill attacks.
As noted earlier, the defenders weren't getting much in the way of support from the forward players. But, being the charitable bunch that they are, they decided to chip in on the attack to help their teammates out.
Oscar won a corner with a run down the right flank, leaving Willian standing over a set piece. That generally portends good things for us this year, and so it proved this time as well. It's entirely possible that Gary Cahill actually managed to score twice on the same play here -- his initial header was clawed onto the post, possibly from behind the line, by a flailing Predrag Rajkovic, which left him on hand to stab home the rebound from about four yards.
Maccabi didn't look like doing much of anything after the goal, but Chelsea seemed somewhat disinclined to punish their ramshackle display. Meanwhile the surface was causing some problems, with divots so big they might have been potholes cropping up all over the pitch. Indeed, the problem got so bad that Jose Mourinho ended up moonlighting as a a groundskeeper rather than celebrating the first goal. It was more convincing, at least, than Tal Ben Haim's attempt at pretending to be a kickboxer.
If you're going to get sent off for violent conduct, my view is that you should at least do it properly. Kicking out at someone's trailing leg after they're well past you is probably going to cause a little pain, sure, but it's nothing compared to a well-timed elbow to the gut or a deliberate stamp. You've probably already guessed who wound the former Blues defender up enough to draw said violent conduct. It was, of course, Diego Costa, who went to ground after being clipped and got up again after Maccabi had been reduced to 10 men.
The red card meant that Chelsea were set to coast through the rest of the match, but perhaps they took a few too many liberties with the man advantage, because they came out for the second half so flat that they might as well have been two-dimensional. Maccabi seemed reinvigorated by the realisation that there were still holes in the Blues line and caused some problems, holding onto the ball well and doing some frankly alarming things to the gap between Baba Rahman and Terry. But the principle of 'don't worry, they can't score' saw us emerge unscathed in the end.
For a little while it seemed as though that principle might actually apply to Chelsea as well. Rajkovic, who'd done so well in nearly denying Cahill his goal, pulled out a superb stop against Eden Hazard before coming up with an even better one against Azpilicueta, keeping the match at 1-0 and making Begovic's saves against Dasa and Ehran Zahavi much more important than perhaps they should have been.
With the match dangerously open, the Blues knew they needed another goal and it fell upon Willian (as always, it seems) to create it. Having won a free kick on the left side, from roughly the same area as he scored the winner in our last Champions League match, the Brazilian came up with what might have been his best delivery yet, a shot which skimmed over the wall before taking a hard turn downward and nestling just inside the near post. Rajkovic ended up on his knees, presumably doing some sort of homage to the perfection of the goal.
Good news, however, was preceded by bad. As Willian was preparing to do mean things to the poor Maccabi goalkeeper, Chelsea had to deal with a long injury delay after the pitch did similarly mean (and probably more painful) things to John Terry. The skipper was stretchered off with what looked like an ankle injury, and is now apparently a doubt for the match against Spurs next weekend. Kurt Zouma happied his way on to replace him.
At 1-0 the hosts still felt like a credible-ish threat to get back in the game, but 2-0 was obviously beyond their capability. Indeed, Willian's strike opened up the floodgates, leaving Oscar to head in a Rahman cross seven minutes later before he turned provider for Kurt Zouma in stoppage time. That would do it for the scoring, although Loïc Rémy tried his damnedest to make it five in the dying stages.
4-0 isn't a bad result. I could get used to 4-0. Please make me get used to 4-0, Chelsea.