MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 1 STEAUA BUCHAREST 0
A steady if unspectacular victory courtesy of Demba Ba's early goal means Chelsea finish group stage winners for the ninth time in our 12 Champions League campaigns.
Opportunities for more goals were few, although Branislav Ivanovic was denied by good goalkeeping and Ba another goal by wayward finishing. Steaua, who set a new record tonight for most consecutive Champions League games without a victory, wasted one gilt-edged chance shortly after the goal but that apart did not look likely to get back into the match.
Jose Mourinho spoke before the game of the need to rest players but still win the game and he set out to do that by making seven changes from the defeat at Stoke.
Mark Schwarzer at 41 years of age played the first Champions League game of his career and ahead of the goalkeeper, Ashley Cole returned to defence, as did David Luiz who was over injury, just like his countryman Oscar who was also back. Willian, ill and unavailable at the weekend, and Eden Hazard were the wide players with Ba leading the attack.
Prior to kick off, and in common with other European games this week, a banner was displayed in front of the two teams before kick-off in tribute to Nelson Mandela, with applause around the stadium greeting it.
Two minutes into the game, there was almost a positive start manufactured in Brazil but David Luiz didn't connect cleanly enough when Willian's corner dropped at his feet. Then Willian fed Oscar through the middle but his shot bent the wrong way and went wide.
Chelsea were quickly on top and Lampard blasted a ball from wide into the crowded goalmouth but didn't get the favourable touch he was seeking,
There was corner after corner in the opening stages, and it was Demba Ba who made one count after just nine minutes for his second Champions League goal of the season. Willian took it from the right and Oscar headed on towards the target, with Ba able to bundle it over the line having reacted better than Daniel Georgievski. There was a suspicion the Steaua defender might have scored himself which would have added to the own-goal he netted when the two teams met in Romania in October, but it was confirmed by UEFA as belonging to the Chelsea striker before half-time.
One goal to the good in the quest for top spot, Chelsea should have been punished by Gabriel Iancu soon after but the midfielder shot wide with only Schwarzer to beat, our defence having been opened up too easily by a simple pass down the middle.
Mikel was booked for pulling back Iancu inside the opening 20 minutes as the Romanian again slipped in goal-side, but from that point on until the interval, there was nothing more to worry about, apart from getting the insurance of a second goal given what had happened in recent games.
It took lightning reactions from Steaua keeper Tatarusanu to prevent Ivanovic celebrating his 50th Chelsea European game with a goal, when the right-back got a firm header onto a Hazard ball in.
After a spell of midfield combat, Chelsea next advanced with a chip into the middle from Willian, much involved in this opening half, but Ba had strayed marginally offside. Then Lampard took a pop from 35 yards but cleared the bar by a couple.
Ba was again causing chaos inside the six-yard box on 37 minutes as another corner came in, but amongst the scramble the ref spotted a foul. Cole then warmed the keeper's hands on a chilly night with a grasscutter of a shot.
Dan Petrescu, a hero for both sets of fans, was given a fitting reception as he was walked round the pitch at half-time as special guest, and it was a successor to the Chelsea no. 2 shirt, Ivanovic, who was booked soon after the restart for a late tackle. That looked a little harsh, unlike the card given to Georgievski moments later for sliding in on Cole.
Ba should have doubled the lead and his tally on 51 minutes as he ran onto Willian's good pass into the six-yard box, but half-volleyed over.
Two-thirds of the way through the game, Georgievski took his turn to win a contest with Ba as Hazard fired the ball in from wide from an attack started by Mikel. Ba was certainly getting into dangerous positions.
There was a low intensity to this half. The Blues tried to stretch the opposition by moving the ball wide when the chance was there, and Hazard headed over from close range after Schurrle, recently introduced into the action for Oscar, had caused panic in the Steaua defensive ranks.
Schwarzer dealt comfortably with a Steaua shot from an angle soon after - the first opposition shot on target in four games that hadn't resulted in a goal. It was proving a gentle introduction to Champions League football for the Australian.
Ramires and Kevin De Bruyne were introduced in place of Mikel and Willian for the closing stages. The Belgian almost found Ba in front of the target but a sliding defender intervened, and then the Chelsea centre-forward had the ball in the net seconds later, only for the offside rule to frustrate him again.
Chelsea conceded our first corner of the night in stoppage time at the end. It was safely negotiated and the ref ended the match soon after.
With Schalke beating Basel in the other game in Group E, a draw at Stamford Bridge would have been enough for top spot but the win looked likely throughout tonight's match, and we will find out our next opponents in this competition when the draw is made on Monday.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Ivanovic, D Luiz, Terry (c), Cole; Mikel (Ramires 74), Lampard; Willian (De Bruyne 79), Oscar (Schurrle 66), Hazard; Ba.
Unused subs Cech, Cahill, Mata, Torres.
Scorer Ba 9.
Booked Mikel 20, Ivanovic 47.
Steaua (4-1-4-1): Tatarusanu; Georgievski, Szukala, Gardos, Latovlevici; Pintilii (c) (Tatu 63); Chipciu, Stanciu (Prepelita 60), Iancu, Pirvulescu; Kapetanos (Piovaccari 70).
Unused subs Nita, Cristea, Neagu, Varela
Booked Georgievski 50, Latovlevici 78.
Referee Gianluca Rocchi of Italy.