CHELSEA MAKE GREAT ESCAPE IN GERMANY
All three goalkeepers proved unbeatable in a scrappy Champions League encounter, with Manuel Neuer recovering from his Stamford Bridge blunder to make a number of good saves, whilst Petr Čech kept the German side at bay in the first half. He was replaced due to a calf injury at half time, and fans favourite Carlo Cudicini pulled off a few outstanding saves to keep the scores level as Schalke came home strongly.
Claude Makelélé was preferred to the much less experienced Jon Obi Mikel in midfield, whilst Florent Malouda was chosen over Shaun Wright-Phillips on the wing. Injuries meant that Belletti and Bridge had no competition for the fullback positions, with Alex again partnering Carvalho.
Schalke’s injury problems meant that they could only name a five man substitute bench, and as a result they were without Kevin Kuranyi once more. One of the five available substitutes was Peter Lovenkrands, who started at Stamford Bridge.
The first chance of the game fell to the main attacking threat, Didier Drogba, however his shot was turned away by the young goalkeeper Neuer. From the resulting corner, Alex headed way over the bar, with Neuer being impeded in his attempts to get to the ball.
Bordon and Drogba both had attempts at goal, before Ozil had a crack for Schalke, Čech easily saving though.
The next two attempts were from Schalke’s left back, Westermann, the eventual man of the match. His first shot was awkwardly saved by Čech, before his next, a scorching 25 yard effort, was brilliant palmed away by the Chelsea goalkeeper. Čech then began receiving treatment for a calf injury, but he carried on.
Schalke nearly opened the scoring in the 27th minute, after Čech failed to collect a corner. Asamoah scrambled to get to the lose ball, only for his poke at goal to be cleared by Juliano Belletti on the goal line.
Čech made another save to deny Ratikic’s drive, before Drogba sent a free kick into the Schalke wall. With three minutes left in the half, he again had an opportuinity, getting to a crafty through ball from Joe Cole, only for Manuel Neuer in the Schalke goal to deny him again. The last action of note for the half was Lampard’s long range effort that went just wide.
For the start of the second half, Carlo Cudicini replaced Petr Čech in the Chelsea goal, the latter having succumbed to the calf injury he picked up in the first half. However, Cudicini proved once more to be a more than able deputy.
The Italian goalkeeper made a great save in the 57th minutes, after Ratikic swung in a shot across the penalty area that bounced awkwardly at the near post. However, Cudicini adeptly turned the ball away from danger and out for a corner.
Two minutes later, Danish winger Lovenkrands replaced Ozil, who went off with an injury. Asamoah was close to scoring from a corner, although Cudicini felt he was impeded, before Avram Grant made his first outfield sub of the game, replacing Belletti with Mikel and moving Essien to right back.
Not long after, Cudicini made another fantastic save to deny Rafinha, before Drogba- having one of those nights- was again denied by the goalkeeper Neuer. All three keepers were proving to be significant obstacles for opposing strikers.
Wright-Phillips replaced Malouda, as Schalke bombed forward looking for a late winner. True to the pattern of the match, the final chance fell to the home side, and they were so close to capitalizing. A slip from Essien allowed the speedy Lovenkrands through, and with only Cudicini to beat, his near perfect finishing crashed off the far post and out into play. It was cruel on Schalke, who had deserved the three points from this game.
At full time, Chelsea hadn’t guaranteed a spot in the second round, but were once step closer after a fortuitous draw. Neuer, Čech and Cudicini were all in fine form to keep the game goalless; however Chelsea’s wayward defending did leave something to be desired, as our run of seven consecutive wins comes to an end. The Blues will look to get that run going again on Sunday against Everton, and with Cudicini in goal, continue the run of five games without conceding.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech (Cudicini 45); Belletti (Mikel 65), Alex, Carvalho, Bridge; Essien, Makelélé, Lampard (c); J Cole, Drogba, Malouda (Wright-Phillips 79).
Schalke (4-5-1): Neuer; Rafinha, Bordon (c), Krstajic, Westermann; Jones, Bajramovic, Asamoah, Rakitic, Ozil (Lovenkrands 59); Larsen.
Referee Massimo Busacca.