LONDON -- Even when he is victorious, Rafael Benitez can’t win.
The new Chelsea manager secured his first win in four attempts but he was left to reflect on an evening that ultimately ended in eviction from the Champions League.
Benitez’s team was relatively impressive in annihilating Group E minnow Nordsjaelland 6-1 but a points haul of 10 was not enough to prevent the European champions from becoming the first holders to fail to qualify for the last 16.
With Juventus simultaneously defeating Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 to join the Ukraine club in February’s knockout stages, Benitez will lead his team into the far less glamorous environs of the Europa League.
That is, if the Spaniard is still screaming out instructions from the home dugout at the Bridge by then.
Nothing can be taken for granted where Roman Abramovich is concerned, even if Benitez might have bought himself a smidgen of room to manoeuvre with this comfortable win, albeit against weak Danish opponents.
The manager could at least take solace in a less poisonous welcome from the home fans and a brace of goals from his under-performing No. 9 Fernando Torres, which were supplemented by a David Luiz penalty, a Gary Cahill header and Juan Mata and Oscar strikes.
Joshua John scored what turned out to be a consolation for the visitors but there could have been even more goals had Nicolai Stokholm and Eden Hazard not traded penalty misses in a crazy few minutes before Luiz showed them how it was done.
Benitez might not be able to pit his wits against Europe’s finest coaching minds in the new year but he can at least take solace in a more efficient display from his team.
Unsurprisingly, given the inexperience of the opposition, Chelsea controlled the opening exchanges but its finishing initially lacked punch, as if the team unconvinced whether it would make any difference to the evening’s equation.
An uninspiring game became an eventful one around the half-hour mark, with three penalties awarded in a madcap six minutes, each for handballs of varying degrees of culpability.
Petr Cech dived low to his right to save Nicolai Stokholm’s spot kick after 32 minutes but Jesper Hansen then matched the Chelsea No. 1 by flinging himself to his left to keep out Hazard’s rather feeble penalty.
The third spot kick was perhaps the most contentious of the lot, awarded when a close-range shot hit defender Patrick Mtiliga’s arm that was resting by his side. Luiz paced out a fast bowler’s run-up and emphatically rammed the ball home.
Torres doubled Chelsea’s advantage on the brink of halftime, in a manner that will provide encouragement to Benitez and his coaching staff.
After out-pacing defender Michael Parkhurst in the quest to latch on to Victor Moses’ smart through-ball, the Spaniard’s first attempt was beaten away by Hansen but the striker kept his composure to steer the rebound over the goalkeeper and inside the far post.
It prompted a thousand Twitter jokes about Torres ending his drought but it was in fact the Spaniard’s eighth Chelsea goal of the season.
Nineteen seconds after the break, Nordsjaelland got a foothold in the match when the brilliantly named Joshua John steered in from a tight angle.
Cahill got on the scoresheet after 51 minutes with his sixth goal of the season and, from then on, it was about how many Chelsea would win by as its part-time opposition tired.
Torres got his ninth of the campaign soon afterwards, while Mata and Oscar also scored late on as the final group game developed into a training match.
Ultimately, it was of little consequence. Long before the end, Chelsea’s support had accepted their fate.
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