If Chelsea's performance represented the antithesis of the efficiency to which they aspired in the Mourinho era, then few would deny that it was a great deal more entertaining. Outplayed for large stretches of the match by opponents unbeaten in 17 domestic and European matches this season, they were never outfought. And when both teams were throwing haymakers in the final round, they found the punch that counted.

Inconsistent and defensively permeable as they have been this season, Roberto Di Matteo's side have never been short of spirit. That was the quality which saw them through Tuesday night's encounter, even without John Terry, so often the embodiment of their refusal to yield.

They took an early lead thanks to a stroke of good fortune and then, as the club captain looked on from the bench, gave it away almost immediately after an episode of the sort of comedy defending that has been a feature of their performances in recent weeks. They regained the lead just before half-time but, in a moment of mental sloppiness, were caught napping again two minutes after the interval.

José Mourinho, with his obsessive attention to shape and positioning, would have been beside himself when Willian nullified Fernando Torres's opportunistic opener after clever interplay had left Chelsea's left flank in tatters for neither the first nor last time. Here was the work of a defence that had conceded seven goals to Manchester United in their previous two fixtures, on both occasions without the benefit of Terry's presence, and has kept only five clean sheets in 17 matches this season.

Perhaps, along with the marvellous footballing eloquence of their new three-man midfield, this is all part of a daring masterplan in which the creation of a more likeable Chelsea is taking priority over actual results. Ramshackle defending was certainly not a part of their former identity, when they had difficulty winning admiration outside west London.

Citing Terry's lack of match fitness after a four-match suspension broken only by his appearance in the first match against Shakhtar, Di Matteo left him on the bench for this return meeting. It may also have been in his mind that his captain was partnering David Luiz when the team lost 2-1 in the Donbass Arena.

"We need everybody to be on top of their game tonight," the manager said of his decision to omit Terry from the starting XI. "The players who are playing are internationals, so I'm not gambling. John Terry is an important player for us and will continue to be important for us. We need to have a good balance – when we're attacking, we need to be aware of Shakhtar's threat and not let them counterattack."

"There's only one England captain," the occupants of the Matthew Harding Stand sang as Terry warmed up in the minutes before half-time. In Di Matteo's place, probably not many of them would have chosen to leave Terry, even a Terry necessarily short of match fitness, on the bench. Time and again David Luiz, taking the captain's place on the left of the central defensive pairing, and the England hopeful Ryan Bertrand, deputising for Ashley Cole at left-back, were dismantled by the swift Luiz Adriano, the perceptive Fernandinho and the incessantly overlapping Darijo Srna.

But then, just before half-time, came Oscar's prodigious goal, the Brazilian taking a touch to control a headed clearance from the Shakhtar goalkeeper before unleashing a shot from 40 yards that flew off the outside of his right foot and dipped under the crossbar. A teenaged Ray Wilkins did something similar on this ground in the mid-1970s, returning a goal kick directly into the net from a similar range.

Last night the brilliance of the Brazilians held centre stage, as it always threatened to do on a night when seven of them started the match, three for Chelsea and four for the visitors, with another three waiting on the Shakhtar bench. At times it looked as though the side with the greater number of Brazilians on the pitch would be bound to win, although some of David Luiz's rampaging runs deep into the Shakhtar half were more music-hall than Maracanã.

Willian's goals came from the sort of fluent interplay around the penalty area that Chelsea had been unable to match. But Di Matteo's players kept plugging away, refusing to mope after being denied what looked like a clear penalty for Srna's foul on Ramires.

Profiting from a sudden outbreak of wastefulness among the Shakhtar forwards in the final minutes, they forced the issue all the way to the closing seconds, when Victor Moses, a late replacement for the tiring Oscar, struck the blow that gives them a chance of going a stage further in defence of the trophy they captured in Munich last May.