The Old Guard Dig Deep
Every season the likes of Lampard, Terry, Drogba are written off at the earliest attempt. Yet every time they seem to write themselves back in, and in memorable style. Claims about who is the true boss can be swept aside, bossing the game on the pitch is what won the tie tonight and made us the only English side in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Average goalkeepers in the red half of North London should take note.
The tie started in a fashion reminiscent of the first leg in Naples, Chelsea seemingly exposed at every attack from the Italians. Although the first chance of the game was a Daniel Sturridge volley that forced Morgan De Sanctis into a smart save, the flowing attacks of Marek Hamsik, Edison Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi looked as if a Napoli goal was inevitable. All three forced Petr Cech into smart saves but he could only watch as squared ball from Christian Maggio fell to Cavani who squandered the chance. It was a lucky escape. It was nice to experience some European luck, though.
Despite all this, the mood changed on the 29th minute. The ‘mood’ of Drogba is often discussed as a game changer, just ask Rafa Benitez. Not that he’ll be around The Bridge anytime soon, we pray. A great in swinging ball from Ramires was met by a powerful diving header from the Ivorian leaving De Sanctis with absolutely no chance. ‘Game on’ has never been so aptly applied.
From the restart, the game, and more importantly Chelsea, found balance. Sturridge’s glancing header went wide of the post and David Luiz’s driven cross was well defended by Paolo Cannavaro who could have easily put the ball in his own net.
The second half started with John Terry bringing back memories of the 4-2 win over Barcelona in 2005. Charging onto the head of a Lampard corner, his header found the bottom corner of the Napoli net. In a winning position and going through, a solid defensive display was the priority.
It wasn’t meant to be. The Shed once again got the Xavi feeling as Gokhan Inler controlled a headed Terry clearance just outside the box and smashed a low drive past a static Cech . The curse of away goals had struck, again.
Back to square one. Torres came on for Sturridge and Chelsea restarted the game with the drive and urgency that was missing under AVB, di Matteo appeared to have installed a sense of pride back into the side and it seemed a matter of time until the fight shown was rewarded. Ivanovic stung the palms of De Sanctis and Drogba forced him into a great save after a sharp spin.
The reward came from one of Rafa Benitez’s masterful signings during his reign at Liverpool. An Ivanovic header was needlessly handled by the now Napoli player Andrea Dossena and Frank Lampard stepped up to hammer home. There was never any doubt.
Lampard should have been presented with another opportunity from the spot in the last minute but as with Italian sides we encounter in the CL, pulling Drogba to the ground is perfectly fine. The use of officials behind goals will forever be lost on me.
Extra time began with Terry and Mata replaced by Malouda and Boswinga shortly into the first half. Torres gambled on a Drogba punt which bounced over a hapless De Sanctis who had charged out of his box but the tight angle meant he could only find the side netting.
As the end of the first half drew near, Drogba was once again involved as he battled between two Napoli players producing a smart turn and cut back to a waiting Ivanovic on the penalty spot. His swept finish crashed into the roof of the net and the comeback was complete. If his two goals at Anfield were priceless in 2009 then that goal is to a value not even invented yet.
An amazing night at The Bridge was summed up in di Matteo’s celebrations after the game. Grabbing every player and celebrating as a team showed we were far from the broken side portrayed by many, in fact we were united. The season is far from over and inspiring performances like that can be the catalyst for recovery. Leicester and City await, legs may be drained but spirit will not. KTBFFH.