For ninety minutes, we were happy. For ninety minutes, Chelsea played like champions. For ninety minutes, it was just like old times. Yacine Brahimi's shot in added-on time was the one truly heart-stopping moment and by that time, Chelsea had long secured passage into the knockout round. The man who had torched Branislav Ivanovic repeatedly in Portugal found far less success in this one, regardless of which wing he tried to exploit, though perhaps some of that had to do with Porto coach Julen Lopetegui's inexplicable decision to leave battering ram Vincent Aboubakar on the bench.
There were no such strange choices from Jose Mourinho for what, some prophesied (again), could've been his final match in charge of Chelsea. Diego Costa returned to spearhead the attack, looking as motivated as ever in all the good (movement, shots, link-up) and the dastardly (provocations, silly yellows) ways we've come to know and love him. Behind him, last year's usual trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Willian rediscovered some of their title-winning magic. The formidably tough and energetic partnership of Ramires and Nemanja Matic controlled Porto's three-man midfield to a large degree, while behind them, the immovable object of Kurt Zouma and the once again most captain-y, leader-y John Terry shut everything else down. Any joy that Porto did have came down the wings, with Brahimi and the always exciting Tecatito Corona flashing their skills, but overall, it was as comfortable for Chelsea as we've seen all season, and perhaps all calendar year.
It didn't exactly start that way however. The first 10 minutes belonged to the visitors, Chelsea looking nervous and unsettled and perhaps just a bit too worried about the occasion and what a loss could mean: the dreaded and unfashionable Europa League. But just when it looked like we'd contrive to allow a most unwelcome opening goal, luck shone our way. Ramires found Hazard who in turn found Diego Costa making a run down the right channel. The striker held off his man, looked-up and fired a low shot towards the far corner. Former Mourinho arch-nemesis Iker Casillas blocked it, but the rebound hit one of his own defenders and at a leisurely pace, rolled across the line. A Porto defender did hook it out from behind the line, but the 5th/6th official waved his wand like Harry Potter and declared (correctly) that it was a goal. It was the first time in recorded history the 5th/6th official did something useful.
Chelsea have taken the lead many times this season only to see our play fall apart, but this time, it galvanized the team instead. The home support followed along, and the course was set for another special European night at Stamford Bridge. Oscar soon could've doubled our lead, appearing to win a penalty when he perhaps should've tried to stay on his feet and continue driving towards goal. Replays later showed that there was contact with Ivan Marcano's leg, though outside the box, before our own man Diego Costa ran poor Oscar over. Chelsea's No.8 then came close to scoring a very No.8-esque goal, but the deflection off the defender took his shot inches wide with Casillas despairing many yards away.
At the other end, Courtois had plenty of time to pick flowers and ponder about our place in the universe as Chelsea kept in control, kept probing, and kept Porto's attackers at bay. Just a few minutes into the second half, the Blues struck again for the all-important second goal. Eden Hazard was once again involved, making his customary impact even if his goal drought has now been stretched to a rather epic 2000+ minutes. (He did hit the post late on.)
The move began on the left, the usual hangout of 2015 Diego Costa -- the usual hangout of 2014 Costa was the penalty box -- the striker finding Hazard who picked out Willian streaking up the right channel once again. Chelsea's leading scorer not named Own Goal already failed to impress with a shot from a similar position just moments prior, firing straight at Casillas, but this time he made no mistake. A low, unstoppable skimmer hit with tremendous power slammed into the net; tens of thousands of Blue-shirted fists slammed high into the night sky in unision behind and all-around him.
Well over 30 minutes remained at this point, but the tie felt well and truly over. In true Mourinho fashion, Chelsea's attacking verve dropped a bit, as the players concentrated on seeing out the professional win. That's not to say we shouldn't have won by a larger margin. On the contrary, Porto were repeatedly knifed apart on the counter, only for us to somehow fail to take advantage every time. Just about everybody had at least one chance to add to the score, even late subs Loic Remy and Pedro. John Obi Mikel, the human final whistle, made a belated and rare appearance as well, and as both sets of fans united in singing Jose Mourinho's name, it truly felt like old times.
With the win, Chelsea finish top of the group and once again advance to the knockout round as a top seed, thus avoiding the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. The draw will be on Monday, just a few hours before our next match, away to league leaders (!) Leicester City. By the end of that day, we might be feeling a lot less happy. So let's enjoy this while it lasts.