LONDON (Reuters) – Schalke 04 halted the Chelsea juggernaut when they drew 1-1 in their Champions League Group G opener at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, handing a wake-up call to the London club who had won their first four games of the season.
After Cesc Fabregas put Chelsea ahead with his first goal for the club after 11 minutes, it seemed the floodgates would open and Chelsea, who have scored 15 goals in a perfect start to the Premier League, would run out easy winners.
They wasted chance after chance, however, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar equalised after a rapid Schalke counter-attack in the 62nd minute to leave the home side frustrated.
With Maribor drawing 1-1 with Sporting Lisbon in the other game in the group, the result is unlikely to have a major impact on the way the rest of the stage pans out.
But at least Schalke, who finished third in the Bundesliga last season, showed they still have plenty to offer after a poor start to the German season which has seen them slip to 18th in the 20-team division after a draw and two defeats in their opening three league matches.
Their coach Jens Keller was a happy man afterwards, and offered a few clues to Chelsea’s Premier League opponents on how to stop them.
“I am very proud of what my team did today against a top team like Chelsea. We were aggressive, we played into space, we had tempo and I am delighted with the performance. If we played like that we knew we had a chance,” he said.
Asked if Chelsea might have under-estimated Schalke after beating them 3-0 home and away in the group stage last season, Keller said, “It’s possible, but its neither here nor there.
“Tactically we played it exactly as we planned.”
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who spoke before the game of how he would like to become the first coach to win the European Cup with three different clubs after his successes with Porto in 2004 and Inter-Milan in 2010, appeared grumpy afterwards.
He told reporters: “I told my players 20 times that (Julian) Draxler likes to come inside on his right foot and (Sidney) Sam wants to come inside on his left foot but we did not do that and that was a mistake we made,” he said.
The other key mistake Chelsea made was down to Fabregas.
He was fortunate Croatian referee Ivan Bebek allowed play to continue after he appeared to foul Max Meyer at the start of the move that led to his goal, which came when he fired past goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann with a lofted angled drive.
But then justice appeared to be done when he lost the ball at the start of the move that led to Schalke’s equaliser, allowing Draxler to cut inside before moving the ball on to Huntelaar to equalise with a superb shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Chelsea could have been well clear by then had their finishing been as sharp as usual.
After Fabregas opened the scoring he skied a shot over the bar from 12 meters in the 37th minute while Didier Drogba, making his first start since his return to Stamford Bridge missed two good chances in the second half.
Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry all went close to scoring for Chelsea, as did Loic Remy after he replaced Drogba in the 73rd minute.