Oscar rescues Blues
PRAGUE – Oscar came off the bench to net an 82nd-minute winner as Chelsea snatched a tepid 1-0 win at Sparta Prague in their Europa League last-32 first leg today.
The Brazilian scored 45 seconds after coming on to the field, playing a neat one-two with Eden Hazard before calmly slotting beyond goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
Chelsea started promisingly at the Generali Arena, with Frank Lampard’s early shot held at the second attempt by Sparta goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
Hazard twice tried to engineer an opening for Fernando Torres, but on each occasion the World Cup winner did not contest good crosses into the six-yard box.
Sparta debutant David Lafata was causing Chelsea problems but the visitors continued to create chances at the other end, Torres heading over a Juan Mata free-kick from Juan Mata in the second half and Lampard heading straight at Vaclik
Torres’ evening was summed up when he shot right-footed from 20 yards, the ball slicing high and going out for a throw-in.
Mata made way after 82 minutes for Oscar, who made an immediate impact, receiving a return pass from Hazard before clinically finishing into the bottom corner.
The result, following last Saturday’s 4-1 Premier League defeat of Wigan, saw Chelsea claim back-to-back wins for the first time since December and keep a clean sheet for a second time in eight games.
In another encounter Liverpool face an uphill task after losing 2-0 to Zenit St. Petersburg in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.
Second-half goals from Hulk and Sergei Semak punished the Reds after Luis Suarez had missed a host of chances at the other end.
From the off the game was littered with chances, with Aleksandr Kerzhakov forcing Pepe Reina into a smart save and Suarez seeing a chance go wide inside the first two minutes.
Reina pulled out another fine stop to deny the marauding Hulk as Zenit dominated the early stages, but Liverpool remained a threat and Suarez should have put them ahead following an error from Nicolas Lombaerts.
The Belgian centre-back foolishly gave the ball away to Suarez but, while the striker comfortably rounded Vyacheslav Malafeev, he delayed long enough to allow Lombaerts to recover and clear.
Shortly afterwards, Hulk drilled in a shot that beat Reina only to bounce back off the woodwork to safety.
There was still time for a third chance for Suarez before the break, the striker flicking Raheem Sterling’s intelligent centre wide as the first-half somehow ended scoreless.Brendan Rodgers’ side began the second half well with Glen Johnson forcing Malakeev into action and Suarez measuring a good chance just wide of the post.
And with the visitors starting to look comfortable, those spurned opportunities proved costly when Hulk blasted a brilliant long-range effort into the top-left corner.
Minutes later things got worse for Liverpool when a cross from the right ran through to substitute Semak and the 36-year-old midfielder tucked the ball away at the far post.
Liverpool pushed for a potentially vital away goal but it was not forthcoming and it will require a big effort to turn the tie around at Anfield next week.
Meanwhile Gareth Bale hit a last-gasp free-kick to give Tottenham Hotspur a 2-1 victory over Lyon in the first leg match at White Hart Lane.
Bale had opened the scoring with a brilliant long-range free-kick on the stroke of half-time, his 16th goal of the season in all competitions.
Lyon equalised 10 minutes into the second half when teenage full-back Samuel Umtiti†thrashed an astounding half-volley into the top right from a seemingly safe position on the left wing.
Another English Premier League side, Newcastle, drew 0-0 with Metalist. (Sky)