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Schurrle stars as Chelsea sail past Sporting


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Andre Schurrle netted a stunning goal as his energetic performance inspired Chelsea back to winning ways.

Following another abject showing in northern England against Newcastle on Saturday, few would have been surprised by José Mourinho's decision to field a strong side in an attempt to immediately get back in the swing of things.

The decision to do so paid instant dividends as Cesc Fabregas put Chelsea ahead from the penalty spot inside the opening ten minutes, before Schurrle's wonderful turn and drive into the bottom corner gave the Blues a degree of comfort heading into the interval.

Sporting threatened a fightback following a strong start to the second period, and they got the rewards for an enterprising showing when Jonathan Silva beat Petr Cech with a neat finish with 50 minutes played.

But John Obi Mikel put paid to that notion just six minutes later when he converted from almost under the crossbar after Kurt Zouma had flicked on Fabregas' free-kick - ending Sporting's resistance and consigning the Portuguese side to Europa League mediocrity.

Mourinho gave game time to a number of the squad's fringe players - a category into which Schurrle himself may well find himself at present - and the German, along with Mohamed Salah, played with a degree of vim and vigour that will surely have been noticed by the Blues boss.

Ahead of a tough festive period Mourinho will no doubt have to rotate a number of players on a game-to-game basis, and Salah and Schurrle will have played their way back into first-team contention on the evidence displayed here.

And there was also the briefest of cameos for youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who, in the final ten minutes, showed great poise and inventiveness on the ball on what was his début for the club.

Loftus-Cheek may well have entered proceedings earlier, especially given the blitzing start made by the Blues, and when Filipe Luis was upended in the penalty area with just six minutes played by Ricardo Esgaio, it looked as if it would be a long night for the Portuguese side.

Fabregas showed trademark composure from the spot; almost arrogantly passing the ball down the middle of the goal to give the Blues the perfect start and dent Sporting's hopes of progressing to the last sixteen.

Needing either to avoid defeat at Stamford Bridge or hope that Schalke failed to win at Maribor, things took a turn for the worse for the Portuguese side when, after a passage of flowing football, Schurrle turned and slotted the ball home from twenty yards with laser precision.

It is the sort of goal that typifies the more direct approach of the German winger compared to the likes of Willian and Eden Hazard, and that strike served only to invoke even greater confidence as the World Cup winner began to stamp his authority over the game.

He nearly doubled his tally for the evening when he met Cesar Azpilicueta's cross with a composed half-volley, but Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patricio was at his best to deny the German a second goal.

Schurrle then had the Blues' next good opportunity as his deflected drive dribbled wide of the post with Patricio scrambling, before Nemanja Matic - the match-winner the last time the two sides met - saw a controlled side-foot volley from the edge of the area narrowly avoid nestling in the top corner.

Diego Costa, still searching for his first Champions League goal for the club, saw an effort blocked just before the break, whilst, the other side of the interval, Schurrle maintained his eye-catching performance with a clever free-kick that sailed no more than a couple of feet wide of the near post.

But Sporting emerged with a greater desire after half-time - probably buoyed by the 0-0 scoreline in Maribor that would take them through - and got their rewards for an improved showing when Silva had time to take the ball down on his chest and then measure the ball into the far corner, beyond the despairing dive of Cech.

Whilst Salah had a drive from the edge of the box superbly tipped around the post by Patricio at the other end, it was Sporting who were in the ascendancy - only for Mikel, converting from the closest range possible, to deliver the ultimate sucker punch.

That goal - Mikel's first since January - effectively killed the game as a tie, and with news of a goal for Schalke's Max Meyer, the Lisbon club seemed beaten even with half an hour remaining in this game.

Islam Slimani had a shot saved by Cech, and then the same player produced a fine low save from the Czech custodian, who did well to prevent the ball from going over the line despite his backwards momentum.

But with Sporting requiring two goals, there were gaps appearing all over the place for Chelsea to exploit, and whilst substitute Loic Remy had a shot blocked inside the penalty area, his strike partner Costa was infuriated when his was blatantly tugged back when trying to latch onto Fabregas' lofted through-ball.

With Sporting dejected, Loftus-Cheek entered the fray to rapturous applause, and despite a nervous, heavy first touch of the ball, the youngster soon started to play with his usual verve and fluency, and, but for a shockingly bad cross by another substitute, Ramires, the 18 year-old may well have contributed to a fourth Chelsea goal with Matic marauding further forward.

Cech turned aside one last effort from Silva, but the final whistle sounded as Sporting were knocked out.

Chelsea, meanwhile, top the group with fourteen points from a possible eighteen, having scored seventeen goals in the process - making the Blues the top scorers in this season's competition, and with only three goals conceded, only Real Madrid and AS Monaco can boast better defensive records.

The Blues can play any of Shakhtar Donetsk, Paris St-Germain, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen or FC Basel in the first knock-out round. Avoid the French club and Mourinho will be more than satisfied with his team's work in Europe this term.

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wonderful to see a few things ,, YOU writing reports .. Mikel going forward ,, Andre seemingly recovered .. Salas ..

no need to mention Matic ,, only downside .. the limited time for RLC

Well I'm back from my holiday with a little more time to sit down and enjoy the footie for a change, so happy days for all!

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