By Toby Davis
Chelsea gave a helping hand to a former hero on Wednesday by rounding off the Champions League group stage with a 3-1 victory over Sporting which sent the Portuguese side packing and opened the door for Schalke to reach the last 16.
The English side finished comfortably clear at the top of Group G after a Cesc Fabregas penalty and a rasping strike from Andre Schurrle set them on their way and John Obi Mikel rounded off the scoring after Jonathan Silva had given Sporting hope.
The result proved a boon to Chelsea’s former Champions League-winning coach Roberto Di Matteo whose Schalke side clinched the runners-up spot after a 1-0 win over Maribor that left them on eight points, one clear of Sporting.
Chelsea, who dominated Wednesday’s match, finished with 14 points, having won four of their six group games.
Chelsea’s place in the last 16 was assured long before kick-off, as was their status as group winners, after they thrashed Schalke 5-0 in their last game.
But after their unbeaten start to the season was halted in a Premier League defeat at Newcastle United on Saturday, there was no question of Jose Mourinho taking it easy or picking an entirely second-string side.
With Nemanja Matic restored to midfield alongside Fabregas and Diego Costa leading the line, Chelsea enjoyed an immediate stranglehold on possession and were ahead after just eight minutes.
Fullback Filipe Luis was brought down by Sporting’s Ricardo Esgaio and Fabregas stepped up to fire his penalty straight down the middle and into the net.
The one-way traffic continued and the hosts doubled the lead eight minutes later when Schurrle found the bottom corner with a fierce drive from the edge of the area having been teed up by Matic.
The Portuguese team perked up in the second half and grabbed a goal back through Silva who fired home from the edge of the area, but hopes of a revival were dashed by Mikel’s close-range finish.