LONDON — Just how reliant Chelsea's revival has been on Diego Costa's goals became clearer against Schalke in their Champions League opener.
A troublesome left thigh forced Costa to watch from the bench Wednesday as Didier Drogba failed to make the impact anticipated by the Stamford Bridge crowd on the first start of his Chelsea homecoming.
By the time Costa replaced Drogba with around 15 minutes to go, Chelsea had already been made to pay for its profligacy in the Group G encounter. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar completed a speedy counterattack in the 62nd minute to cancel out Cesc Fabregas' first-half opener for Chelsea.
A team winless at home, reeling from its worst start to the Bundesliga in almost 50 years, had ended Chelsea's perfect start to the season. But those four successive Premier League wins came with Costa scoring seven goals, in a devastating start to his career away from Atletico Madrid.
Costa's troublesome hamstring, though, is preventing him for playing three matches in a week for now.
"Costa has a problem," Mourinho said. "If he has one week to let the muscle recover he can start a game, like he did after picking up the problem with the national team.
"But, after playing on Saturday three days is not enough time for him to recover ... tonight he wasn't in condition to start the game."
Costa's position up front was taken by Drogba, who returned in the offseason after two years away from Stamford Bridge. The Ivorian's finishing touch appears to have waned since his last Chelsea start in 2012, when he netted the winning spotkick in the Champions League final.
"He had a positive game, I am happy with what he did," Mourinho said in Drogba's defense. "I am not disappointed with the striker because one inch he scores the goal or doesn't score a goal."
Fortune seemed to be favoring Chelsea early on when referee Ivan Bebek failed to penalize Fabregas for launching into Max Meyer with a sliding tackle that completely missed the ball. The midfielder not only escaped any sanction for his recklessness but play continued. Eden Hazard seized possession, cut in from the left and played in Fabregas to slot under goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann in the 11th minute.
Having set up six goals in four games, the Spain midfielder had found the net for the first time since leaving Barcelona in the offseason.
Chelsea also created chances to go further in front. Drogba's powerful header, though, went straight into Faehrmann's arms. And when Fabregas was left completely unmarked in front of goal, with goal at his mercy, he blasted the ball over.
Schalke finally began to impose itself toward the end of the first half with Kevin-Prince Boateng's swerving shot being pushed around the post by Thibaut Courtois' diving save. Julian Draxler managed to drift past three Chelsea defenders, only to slot wide of the post just before halftime.
Not only Drogba was struggling to find the net for Chelsea. Hazard completely missed at the start of the second half. And when Drogba latched onto Hazard's defense-splitting through-ball, the striker clipped the ball just wide of the post.
But the tables were turned when Fabregas gained possession in Schalke territory and Huntelaar set Draxler off on the break. Draxler charged through the Chelsea defense before returning the ball for Huntelaar to slot in the equalizer.
"Tactically we did exactly how we had planned. When were aggressive we played into space," Schalke manager Jens Keller said through a translator. "We had a really good tempo."
When Drogba curled the ball over it was a sign that Chelsea needed changes up front. And both Costa and Loic Remy duly came on for their European debuts with Chelsea, with Willian also coming off.
Remy immediately had a chance to put Chelsea in front, only to be thwarted by Roman Neustadter, who headed the shot off the line. Hazard also volleyed over before being denied by Faehrmann's fine save.
However, with Sporting Lisbon drawing 1-1 with NK Maribor in Slovenia, Chelsea's consolation on the night was knowing that it's all square in the group.
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