I wonder… do Liverpool fans view the upcoming pair of fixtures against Chelsea with the same sense of impending tedium as I do? Probably not. Victory, as any modern Chelsea fan will tell you, goes a long way to relieving the spirit-crushing boredom of a soulless game.
Before the high-pitching whining begins, I’d like to make it clear that this isn’t a stab at Liverpool Football Club. Chelsea are equally culpable when it comes to the dire Champions League games that the clubs have shared in recent memory. To call them cagey would be to sully the good name of iron bars. Puskas and Cruyff it ain’t.
On the strength of Tuesday night’s showing against a game but mediocre Fenerbahce, Chelsea have plenty to worry about. Dominant in possession but wasteful in the final third, our profligacy inspired the Turkish champions to ever-greater efforts. Thank goodness for a decent third-choice keeper. Hilario’s scramble and stop – from Boral and Kazim respectively – could well have been the ultimate difference in this match.
What is it that Chelsea lack at the moment? I won’t waste my or Fenerbahce fans’ time with false modesty: Chelsea were the better team over the two legs, and deserved to go through, but they also should have done it with rather more aplomb. Kazim and Deivid aside, Fenerbahce huffed and puffed, spending much of the tie pinned inside their own half. That the scoreline was not more convincing was due in large part to a misfiring Didier Drogba. He shot when he should have passed and passed when he could have shot. And when it didn’t work out, as sometimes happens for the big fella, he started sulking. Thank heavens, then, for Michael Essien, for whom the words “give up” are written in unbreakable code in a teeny tiny book in a locked room in a remote country on a faraway planet.
In the aftermath of both this and the Arsenal – Liverpool game, there has been plenty of the usual windbag nonsense from both sides. It’s not about revenge, say Chelsea. League form means nothing, says Benitez. Most intriguingly of all, though, it gives Chelsea’s dead man walking Avram Grant the chance to get one over on his predecessor. If any of you have read David Peace’s excellent “The Damned United”, you’ll remember the echoes of Revie that haunted every step Clough took in his journey around Elland Road. Grant may not have the fiery Clough’s effortless charisma and knack for grabbing attention, but – through no fault of his own – he can’t seem to make a decision without being compared to José. With the second leg scheduled for our home turf, it’s as good a chance as he’s going to get to prove that he should be in the hot seat next season.
Would I trade the result for the spectacle? No. But I do still wonder why these teams bring out the worst in each other. Liverpool – Arsenal was a good game. The Chelsea – Arsenal League match was a decent game. There’s no reason why two teams well-stocked with good players can’t produce 180 minutes (or more) of entertaining footie.
As long as it doesn’t end with penalties this time.