The Week We Reached The Champions League Semi-Final
Tuesday 27 March
Benfica 0:1 Chelsea
These are the nights we live for and we should thank Roberto Di Matteo for bringing games like this back to the club. But you have to scratch your head and wonder what they were doing under AVB.
The line-up didn’t inspire confidence before kick-off with Ferreira in at right-back and Lampard and Sturridge on the bench to make way for Kalou and Ramires. If AVB had picked this team, with Torres up front, there’d have been howls of protest and the game wouldn’t have finished in our favour.
As it was Benfica had plenty missing to injury so the game started with sparring as both sides probed without creating anything solid. Our midfield was working tirelessly to close down and stifle, so it was no real surprise when Meireles picked up a yellow. The raucous home fans didn’t seem to like the former Porto player much and he seemed happy to be the bad guy.
We weren’t managing much more than keeping them at bay but Torres did have one turn juggle and shot; only just over. We survived the last ditch free-kick to go in at the half level if unadventurous.
More of the same in the second: David Luiz cleared a fizzer off the line with Cech out of position as Benfica started with a rocket up their arse but Ramires and Torres looked to break with Kalou becoming more influential.
Torres crossed for Kalou, who’d drifted off his marker but headed the best chance of the night clear over the bar. The home fans were screaming for a handball a few minutes later but referees in Europe, if not at Eastlands understand the difference between ball-to-hand and hand-to-ball.
Mata was suddenly sprung forward but went wide round the ’keeper and thumped the post before Cech did well to save a header from a corner.
Kalou’s redemption came when Ramires wriggled and fought down the right fed the ball to Torres who crossed for the stringy Ivorian to score. 0-1.
Our ling term goalkeeping coach, Christophe Lollichon, reminded everyone he exists by getting himself sent to the stands and Benfica started to press but apart from Ashley Cole nearly lashing the ball in as he attempted to clear there were few scares.
Delight all round at the end as well as the usual ‘job only half done’ nods to complacency. The final score came as a delight to Ramires who thought we’d drawn 0-0. He was clattered in his attempts to feed the ball to Torres for the goal and was receiving treatment when the goal went in.
Elsewhere brave Apoel at home against Real Madrid – well you know how the sentence finishes …
Wednesday 28 March
Swansea City reserves 2:2 Chelsea reserves
A bit of luck saw the reserves away from Wales with a slightly fortunate draw as Lucas Piazon scored with virtually the last kick. Patrick Bamford added to his reputation as a goal a game striker with the first equaliser. We gave away at lot in age and experience to the hosts and lost Nat Chalobah to a knock in the first-half.
Milan and Barcelona drew 0-0 in Italy so Barcelona will be favourites next week.
Bayern München beat Marseille 0-2 in France so the other side if the draw at least looks clear.
Friday 30 March
The FA announce a 6pm kick-off for the Semi with Tottenham on Sunday 15 April. The club will complain that it is too late considering a possible Champions League game the next week but fans will be delighted that for once we’ll be able to get munted before the start of a London derby – perhaps they’ll be a bit of atmosphere. The Metropolitan Police Force will be having kittens; if this goes off peacefully, their pathetic justification for Saturday lunchtime kick-offs goes pop.
Saturday 31 March
Aston Villa 2:4 Chelsea
Aside from a topsy-turvy five minutes in the second-half we actually started to look dominant for the first time this season. Ivanovic came back into the team with Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge for Meireles and Ramires.
David Luiz started the game with a superb through ball that Torres reached but hit against Given. The opener wasn’t far behind though as Mata tried to find Torres and a Villa block fell to Daniel Sturridge. 0-1.
More than being in control the Chelsea players actually looked to be enjoying themselves as Torres and Mata linked but the delicate chance came back off the post.
With Villa looking more dangerous as the half wore on Luiz limped out to be replaced by Gary Cahill.
We started the second-half with another goal as Ivanovic stabbed in a loose ball from a corner. 0-2. And we carried on in a comfortable rhythm absorbing the limited attacking ambition of the Villans while looking to hit on the break.
It seemed a sensible tactic until Villa started scoring goals. The defence slacked off on a long throw. 1-2. Only a few minutes later we allowed a cross to reach the right-back Lichaj. 2-2.
We’d had so much control to that point but the home side with crowd suddenly sensing great things anything could have happened. Earlier in the season we would have folded but an almost instant corner bounced off Ivanovic to restore our lead. 2-3.
The goal of the game came at the end as Daniel Sturridge on the break actually, for once, possibly the only time this season saw a pass, fed Torres who finished powerfully after a sure touch. 2-4.
Chelsea youth 0:0 Aston Villa youth
A bit of a dull end to the league campaign at home for the youth team. They’ll not care – the FA Youth Cup is a distraction – but a fussy ref and determined opposition kept today’s excitement to a minimum.
Tuesday 3 April
Barcelona beat AC Milan 3-1 at home, with the help of match officials keen to award penalties even, ha, when the ball was out of play at a corner.
Wednesday 4 April
Chelsea 2:1 Benfica
Caught in the impossible dilemma of a 1-0 first leg lead Chelsea froze in the headlights and very nearly screwed it up. A semi-final against Barcelona will have to be better than this. On the plus side the next game can hardly be worse.
The nerves started early as Benfica hogged possession for the opening twenty-minutes without fashioning a chance despite Chelsea’s midfield running around like headless chickens. John Terry spent most of the opening exchanges balling out the supposed shield for running round doing feck all.
We were so atrocious that we took the lead. A punt up field was chased into the box by Ashley Cole who was flattened by Garcia, penalty. The ref appeared to be handing out cards as Benfica complained but the referee just shrugged. Lampard’s penalty crept in past the hand of Artur. 1-0.
Surely now we relax and play some football? Torres has to realise that the Benfica defence has never played together before that they are all midfielders converted for the night to backs? Apparently not; Torres dithered on the ball when he had a chance to shoot. He was waiting for the chance to cross for Mata but the opportunity lapsed. So much for the confidence goals are supposed to bring.
The Chelsea defence next watched a neat free-kick routine from the Portuguese resulted in a shot John Terry had to clear off the line. Captain, leader, legend and doing it all himself tonight, while imploring everyone else to wake up.
Red card for Maxi Pereira came when he clipped Obi John. To be fair he looked like he was trying to pull out of the tackle but studs still met leg. So, 2-0 on aggregate, surely now we relax and play some football? Torres has to realise that the Benfica defence has never played together before that they are all midfielders converted for the night to backs?
Apparently not. Kalou was having a poor evening even before, just after half-time, he was played in on the edge of the box and took a lazy swing at a shot He was lucky to get a corner.
Cech was forced into his first save as Gaitan and Aimar fed Cardozo for a shot that the ’keeper tipped round at full-stretch. You couldn’t tell which side was down to ten.
Ramires then had the opportunity to add to his howlers video. The man who missed by inches at Old Trafford now contrived to missed by fractions of an inch as Kalou’s low slow cross somehow found its way across the box the Brazilian actually managed to knock the ball backwards.
Torres was back to his fumbling worst as Mata tried to prompt him into something better. Then John Terry comes off for Gary Cahill. JT must be injured because he was the only thing standing between us and humiliation at the hands of ten-men.
Mata tried to set Kalou away moments later but the Ivorian stabbed the ball weakly against the goalkeeper. The next decent chance fell his way too. Most Chelsea bosses have worked out that Kalou is either on fire or a liability and would have subbed him by now. Perhaps Robbie is learning slowly.
Five minutes to go and Cech tips another effort round the post and then everyone stands still at the corner except Javi Garcia who leaps completely unmolested to head in. 1-1
There can really be only one outcome when the board went up with four minutes of extra time, we’d fucked this up and gone out to a poor Benfica side with ten-men. We were a complete shambles and surrendered. Look we’ve even given them a late free-kick to seal our own fate. Only, look, Meireles headed it out and chased down the ball. His foot was too high in the challenge, so the ref will award anoth… but hang on. Meireles is away Ramires and Mata with him but he doesn’t fancy a pass and blasts the ball into the net… yeeaaarrgh. 2-1.
Benfica’s coach Jorge Jesus couldn’t believe he lost to such a scrappy team: “Well, we’ve been the better team in both legs – in Lisbon and in London. I am very proud of my men. We played with 10 men for the best part of an hour and we were still the better team. We made Chelsea look ordinary.” But Jesus, old mate, we don’t remember your side testing our ’keeper ever five minutes. In fact over both legs we only remember three decent efforts. For your side to score it required the whole Chelsea defence to stand stock-still and watch.
Jose Mourinho knows he will not be playing Chelsea in the final. The Real Madrid boss put it simply: “Let me be honest, I don’t think the final will be a Real Madrid Chelsea final. I don’t think. I prefer to say only this. I don’t think it will be Real v Chelsea. It could be Bayern or Barcelona I just don’t think it will be Real Madrid v Chelsea and we know why.”
Thursday 5 April
John Terry’s reputation is now set in concrete as the club reveal that he has played with two-broken ribs since the first leg against Benfoca in Portugal. A full game up at Villa and an hour of last night’s game for the man made of pure beaten London grit.
Every commentator in every national newspaper has written off our chances of beating Barcelona before a ball has been kicked.
Jacob Mellis is having a week’s trial with QPR; it would be a good result for the talented amateur arsonist.
Friday 6 April
No sooner has a buzz started around Stamford Bridge as more and more people get the feeling that we can beat Barcelona then Ron Gourlay puts everything into perspective. Our Chief Wet Blanket announced that finishing fourth in the Premiership was a higher priority than beating Barça and winning the Champion’s League.
If this was a pirate ship he’d be off the end of the plank in the morning.
But let the man condemn himself: “I think finishing in the top four is the ultimate challenge for the club now” – you alone, Ron, you alone, everyone else is getting really excited and dreaming of glory, you seem to be stuck in your office counting beans – “Everyone talks about the Champions League but to finish as high up as possible in the Premier League is very important. Everybody in the business knows the objectives of the football club. Everybody is very clear and buys into it.” To which we have to say no, we don’t buy into it Ron, the manager doesn’t, the players don’t, none of the staff, the owner the fans; we’d all settle for the European Cup, thanks.
Saturday 7 April
Chelsea 2:1 Wigan Athletic
For the first time this season we got outrageously lucky in the league. Wigan can point to both goals being scored by players who were offside, not by the odd fraction of a kilometre but by the proverbial mile.
This match was always going to be more difficult than the league table suggested because Wigan have been on a great run to claw their way back towards safety while we have been spending all our credit with the Gods-of-Football getting to semi-finals. That Ryan Bertrand and Gary Cahill came into defence and Ramires dropped out of the middle might have had more to do with why we struggled.
Wigan were adventurous from the start – perhaps placed in a situation where they have little choice – but that didn’t make for entertaining football the first-half didn’t start until about five minutes before the break when Mata wriggled into the box and actually had a shot saved by Ali Al-Habsi, when Drogba headed back the rebound it was cleared off the line. Didier had another header from a Malouda cross but Al-Habsi is better than that.
It took an direct appeal from the crowd to get Torres on in place of Malouda but the goal shortly afterwards was a stinker from the officials – Mata’s free-kick was cleared but as Meireles helped the ball back in Ivanovic was clearly offside as he helped the ball in. He was so offside that a large section of the crowd, those with the best view, didn’t start to celebrate until the ref awarded the goal. Ivanovic will not care as his fox-in-the-box reputation grows. 1-0.
Torres and Sturridge wasted chances on the break by falling over or firing wide: guess which striker did what…
Given the circumstance of the opener it was only fair they equalised when more dithering in a jittery defence allowed Diamé to crack a shot that Cech clearly didn’t see. 1-1.
Wigan pressed for a winner and at times looked to have us completely unnerved but Caldwell appeared to want to control his chance rather than just heading it and the ball broke straight back down field for Torres to smash a cracking volley off the base of the post only for the ball to bounce in off Mata. 2-1. Mata was a yard at least offside but when have we had luck like this since August?
The Wigan manager, Martinez, was furious afterwards and Roberto was a little sheepish. Bring on Fulham.
Sunday 8 April
As referees allow Manchester United another title – how many dodgy penalties does it take for an FA investigation – Mr Ivanovic might be in trouble as footage emerges of a sly punch on Shaun Maloney. It will probably mean a three-match ban. Which at least means he’ll be nicely rested for Barcelona.