CHELSEA EDGE TOWARDS MOSCOW
Chelsea will meet Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals yet again after edging past Turkish champions Fenerbahce 2-0. An early Michael Ballack header and a late Frank Lampard goal sent the Blues through with a 3-2 win on aggregate.
Chelsea made one change from the side which took the field in the first-leg, with Florent Malouda replaced by Salomon Kalou, scorer of the second goal in Saturday’s win over Manchester City.
Fenerbahce meanwhile denied ex-Blue Mateja Kezman a start at Stamford Bridge, with Colin Kazim-Richards taking his place in the XI after scoring the equaliser in the first leg.
Chelsea went into the game knowing they needed to peg back Fenerbahce at some point during the 90 minutes, and set upon the task immediately.
Inside three minutes, after Michael Essien had his ankles clipped on the right-wing, Frank Lampard swung the resulting free-kick into the box. His ball found Michael Ballack, completely unmarked, who sent a header into the back of the net to score Chelsea’s 200th European goal and more importantly, level the aggregate score and put the Blues ahead on away goals.
All Avram Grant’s side needed was a 1-0 win, but the Blues kept pushing forward and five minutes later, some great work from Kalou on the left created another chance. The Ivorian tricked his way into the area before cutting the ball back into the six-yard box. It was met by the right foot of Joe Cole, but his clever shot cannoned back off the post, with a following effort from Ballack comfortably saved by the Fenerbahce ‘keeper Volkan Demirel.
Chelsea’s midfield trio of Claude Makelele, Lampard and Ballack looked to be on top, and with full-backs Ashley Cole and Essien getting forward frequently, more goals looked likely for the home side.
However, after a curling Drogba shot went just over the top right corner of the Turks’ goal, the Blues soon had problems at the other end.
Stand-in ‘keeper Carlo Cudicini-deputising for Petr Cech who watched on from the stands with a badly cut face following a training ground accident-pulled up after an innocuous clearance and wasn’t able to carry on, meaning third-choice stopper Hilario had to come off the bench and take the Italian’s place between the sticks.
Fenerbahce looked to test Hilario with a Diego Lugano header from an Alex free-kick, however the Uruguayan’s effort drifted harmlessly wide.
Chelsea attacked next as they looked to settle down following Cudicini’s withdrawal, and after a fine team-move on the right resulted in a low drive from Drogba ending up in Demirel’s grateful hands, a tame Kalou shot found the same destination after a smart one-two with Lampard.
With the TV Cameras picking up Grant’s displeasure with his side’s first-half performance, the whistle went with Chelsea 1-0 up at the break.
The second 45 began like the first, with the Blues attacking, but again Demirel was equal to anything they threw at him, this time Drogba saw his shot saved after a quick turn and snap-shot in the box.
Both managers shuffled their pack not long after, with Juliano Belletti replacing Kalou-sending Essien further forward-and Zico bringing on Kezman for the quiet Claudio Maldonado.
Zico’s side began to show more ambition after the change, with attacking intent evident and long periods of possession. Drogba began to look isolated at the tip of Chelsea’s attack, and in the 65th minute he drifted out to the left to help out Joe Cole-who had panicked Edu into a slip-and delivered another low drive on goal. Again however, it ended up in with a Demirel save.
Chelsea fans packed into Stamford Bridge began to get a little anxious, and their nerves were not helped with a Lugano cross-shot in the 75th minute which took a couple of deflections and drifted across Hilario’s six-yard box.
The Blues’ defending started to get desperate, but a couple of quick counter-attacks almost provided a comfortable cushion. The first one just a minute after Lugano’s effort saw Drogba, Joe Cole and Essien up against three defenders, with Demirel quick off his line to deny Cole a chance, while the next attack saw Chelsea awarded a free-kick just outside the area.
Drogba stepped up to strike, but his clean shot was beaten away by Demirel, who was proving to be a thorn in the side of the Blues, just like he was in the first leg.
Chelsea were almost made to pay moments later, as substitute Ugur Boral crossed deep into the box after beating Belletti easily. His ball was met by Gokhan Gonul who saw his first-time volley take a couple of deflections before Hilario grabbed it off the line to deny the Turkish champions. Kazim-Richards then unleashed a long-range effort which the Portuguese ‘keeper parried to safety.
Florent Malouda came on for Joe Cole with five minutes of normal time to play, and there was time for Essien to get himself booked for dissent, ruling himself out of the first-leg of the semi-final.
The Ghanaian soon turned from villain to hero however, as he turned what looked like a time-wasting tactic into an assist in the 87th minute. Moving up the right towards the corner-flag, Essien cut back towards the box and sent a driven cross into the box. All it needed was a touch, and Lampard was on hand to provide the finish, giving Demirel no chance, as well as all but sending Chelsea through to the semi-finals for the fourth time in five years.
Liverpool await in the last four, and after losing to them twice at the same stage in the last three years, retribution will hopefully be on the cards for the Blues this time around.