The challenge of breaching Shakhtar’s Donbass Arena fortress proved a bridge too far for Chelsea and a returning John Terry, and despite their effervescent start to the season manager Roberto Di Matteo is now facing a crucial three games in his bid to defend the trophy.
Juventus’s surprise draw in Denmark against FC Nordsjaelland ensured Di Matteo is not etching his name into the competition’s history books for the wrong reasons just yet, but their opponents here certainly sent out an ominous message, extending their incredible run at home with a result that takes them to the top of Group E.
They have not lost here since last November and, but for the defiance of Petr Cech, could have been savouring an even more resounding victory.
Chelsea were buried in Ukraine’s mining country, like all of the other English teams before them.
Terry’s return was a mere footnote and a painful experience for the Chelsea captain, who wore an anti-racism armband days after being heavily fined by both his club and the Football Association for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.
He has proven adept at producing colossal performances during times of adversity so many times in the past, but the club’s heartbeat could not revive his team-mates here as the Ukrainian league leaders made the champions look alarmingly ordinary at times. Fernando Torres, in particular, suffered a difficult examination under pressure and was replaced with 20 minutes remaining, with the game all but out of reach.
It was not how Abramovich would have wanted to remember his birthday today.
“The best birthday gift we can give Roman now is a victory in the Premier League against Manchester United on Sunday,” said Di Matteo.
While the game against United will be the main focus as Chelsea arrived back in England this morning, the rematch against Shakhtar next month, and the trip to Turin a fortnight later, suddenly takes on even more significance.
The next four weeks will define the direction of Chelsea’s season, with two games against United and home dates with both Liverpool and Manchester City. It was crucial to maintain the momentum but they hit turbulence here at a venue that has proven impregnable for nearly a year.
Shakhtar have not lost a game in any competition since a Champions League defeat to Porto last November and the scent of blood was in the nostrils of a boisterous home support. There is a winning mentality coursing through this team and they were ahead on three minutes. Terry was heavily involved, with Luiz Adriano’s shot taking a deflection off the Chelsea defender to fortuitously fall into the path of Alex Teixeira whose finish was clinical.
Chelsea could have been further behind when the outstanding Willian was allowed too much space to advance towards the penalty area but his shot was too high. Frank Lampard, making his 100th European appearance for the club, then added to the English club’s gloom when he limped off with a recurrence of a calf injury, and could be a doubt for the game against United on Sunday. He will have a scan in the next 24 hours.
Both sides were intent on catching each other out on the counter-attack. Torres produced a microcosm of his form over the past 12 months with a foray into enemy territory, appearing to be outmuscled before retrieving possession and bamboozling three defenders with his footwork before his pass was intercepted.
As the home team cleared the danger, Willian delivered an exquisite ball to send Henrikh Mkhitaryan clear but his cross was cut out by Terry. Chelsea simply could not find a solution to nullify the threat of the Brazilian and he was once again influential to tee up Darijo Srna, whose shot was turned over by Cech.
Di Matteo probably does not do the hairdryer treatment but Chelsea’s start to the second period suggested the half-time inquest had been savage. But minutes after Juan Mata had narrowly missed the target, they were further behind and in big trouble.
Eden Hazard, Lampard’s replacement, was caught in possession by Fernandinho and Adriano provided the perfectly-weighted pass back to the midfielder who shot across Cech and into the far corner.
Terry appeared to lose his composure as the game edged away from Chelsea, bundling over the dangerous Adriano near the touchline.
But Cech’s brilliance presented his team with some encouragement and there was temporary hope two minutes from time when Oscar swept in Branislav Ivanovic’s cross from close range.
But there was to be no late fireworks and Chelsea need to produce a fierce response to ensure their dream of retaining the trophy does not fizzle out two days after Bonfire Night, when they meet again at Stamford Bridge.
Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Rat, Fernandinho, Hubschman, Alex Teixeira (Ilsinho 83), Mkhitaryan, Willian (Douglas Costa 88), Luiz Adriano.
Subs (not used): Kanibolotskiy, Stepanenko, Eduardo, Gai, Kryvtsov.
Booked: Hubschman, Kucher.
Goals: Teixeira 3, Fernandinho 52
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic , Luiz , Terry, Cole; Mikel 5, Lampard 5 (Hazard 18), Ramires, Oscar, Mata, Torres (Sturridge 70).
Subs not used: Turnbull (gk), Romeu, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Bertrand.
Booked: Cole, Luiz
Goal: Oscar 88