Chelsea granted easy ride by Rubin Kazan

Posted by Phil Lythell

With the club in the middle of what is the most hectic week of a truly relentless season, Chelsea will be grateful for the easy ride afforded to them by Rubin Kazan in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarterfinal.

Following the dismal low of the tortuous defeat at Southampton and the high of the gritty win over Manchester United, the 3-1 victory over Russian opposition provided a gentle punctuation mark ahead of Sunday's date with Sunderland. Freed from the perils of losing ground in the Premier League and being shunted out of the premier domestic cup competition by a traditional rival, the team were able to express themselves without too many fears of reprisals.

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Not that there was likely to be much acrimony from a home crowd that was at its most docile. An attendance of less than 33,000 spoke volumes as to how success in this tournament is being regarded by the regulars at Stamford Bridge, and the unfamiliar faces in the stands appeared content to merely witness entertainment as opposed to anything more vital. The temperate atmosphere was aided by the fact that there seemed to be no more than 20 visiting fans in the away end. It was an almost a farcical sight given that they had been afforded half of the Shed End and were vastly outnumbered by the amount of stewards tending to them. There were more people on the pitch than had taken tickets in the visiting section.

Judging by the fare on the pitch, the ambivalence adopted by both sets of fans felt about right. This match was little more than a training session enacted in front of a slightly larger audience than the players might expect at Cobham. Despite the three yellow cards brandished by the referee, there was nothing in the way of a bad tackle and the lack of intensity allowed players from both sides time on the ball and space to operate. Thankfully, the low-key approach played into Chelsea's hands and the home side were able to dictate the game at their own pace.

The freedom could easily have allowed that scourge of Chelsea's season -- namely complacency -- to seep into their play, but refreshingly they managed to maintain their own tempo and enthusiasm to a level that was sufficient to see out the game. The Blues did not underestimate their opponents -- unlike at St Mary's last Saturday -- and stamped their authority on proceedings from early on. Fernando Torres played with an almost carefree abandon which was further enhanced by his opening goal. It spurred him into taking on defenders without first looking for an alternative option and there were even flashes of genuine skill as his muscle memory slowly returned. His thumping header which sealed the win was fully deserved for a solid attacking display.

Torres' performance owed much to Juan Mata. Chelsea have become increasingly reliant on either Mata or Eden Hazard which was why the decision not to start with either of them at Southampton was all the more baffling. This time, however, the little number ten was there to conduct the orchestra and his teammates were all similarly in tune. The introduction of Hazard added a greater verve to the side in the second half and it was his cross that let Torres double his tally.

Away from the usual suspects, it was gratifying and surprising in equal measure to see Yossi Benayoun make such a positive contribution. The Israeli has been horrendously below-par since he returned from his loan spell at West Ham, but against Rubin he exhibited the quickness of feet and brain that made him such a vital player under Rafael Benitez at Liverpool.

The only regret about the game is that the margin of victory was not wider. The chance was there to put the tie beyond doubt ahead of the second leg but Chelsea will go to Russia knowing that there is still work to do. Part of the blame can be placed at the feet of the players though the Italian referee was also culpable. Incredulously, Gianluca Rocchi pointed to the spot having deemed John Terry guilty of handball despite his arms being against his side as a shot came in from close range.

That away goal could yet return to haunt Chelsea though as long as the lineup that Benitez selects is sensible and adopts a professional attitude, there was little shown by Rubin in the first leg that will scare the European champions.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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