CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – THIS IS IT!
Andriy Shevchenko’s equaliser against Rosenborg. Joe Cole’s magnificent ball through to Didier Drogba for the winner against Valencia. Ballack and Lampard seeing off Olympiacos and Fenerbahce at the Bridge. John Arne Riise’s last-gasp diving header to bring us back into the game against Liverpool. THAT second-leg against the Scousers in SW6. THOSE goals from Drogba. THAT penalty from Frank which still causes me to well up at the slightest thought of it.
And now, the game which could eclipse or enhance those memories in the space of just 90 minutes. The game which all those moments have led up to. The game we have all been waiting for. The Champions League final. A chance to create history, build a legacy, and of course, make a lot of Chelsea fans utterly ecstatic!
On Wednesday night, the Blues will take the field in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium after a European campaign which has had more twists and turns than a Drogba goal celebration. After the aforementioned Rosenborg draw, who would have thought we would be preparing for the final eight months on? With José sacked, our season was set to implode, with doom-mongers and nay-sayers spreading bleak prophecies of mid-table mediocrity and the end of the world as we know it under the new manager Avram Grant. But actually, he’s not done too bad really! Reaching the club’s first ever Champions League final is a huge achievement, and my hat is off to our Avram, however, praise must also go to the players who have shown great unity and togetherness in times of trouble. Perhaps the story of our season!
It is fitting then that ahead of arguably our biggest ever game, there are plenty of things for y the fans and the manager to worry about. John Terry is still recovering from a dislocated elbow which he picked up in the final game of the Premier League season against Bolton, while Drogba also injured a knee in the same match. If one of them misses the final, it’s manageable; if both do, then it’s unthinkable. I think we all have our preferred line-ups and formations, and it is fairly easy to pick what should be Grant’s starting XI. Most of the side picks itself, however there will be plenty to talk about ahead of the game once team news starts to leak out of Moscow.
Although I didn’t really want to mention them, it is my duty as a preview writer to bring Manchester United into the piece somewhere. But don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. No real injuries, plenty of history, strong defence, quick attack, noticeable influence over referees, you get the picture!
Well worth dwelling on though, is the last time we played Alex Ferguson’s side, back in April at the Bridge. An excellent display of attacking football quashed any talk of ‘boring, boring Chelsea’ as the Blues swaggered into a 1-0 lead just before half-time with Ballack opening the scoring. The only thing Chelsea could have done better in the opening 45 was bag a few more, and a rare Ricardo Carvalho error 12 minutes into the second period let Wayne Rooney in to equalise. So would we now see United’s ‘sensational style’?
In a word, no. Grant told his side to keep pushing for the winner, and with just four minutes of normal time left to play, Ballack netted a penalty to set up a frantic finale. Both Ashley Cole and Shevchenko cleared off the line at the other end to keep out United, and the Blues held on for the three points. What a day!
A similar story in Moscow would be the ideal result for us, and it is definitely achievable. Although they may have pipped us to the league title, it’s a one-off game on Wednesday, and we are more than capable of winning those. There are so many stories already half-written about the game: no London club has ever won the European Cup; Roman Abramovich’s side are playing the final in his home country; doubts still remain over the future of some of our players; Avram Grant’s remarkable first season, etc etc.
But I don’t care about any of them. The only story I want to hear on Wednesday night is a triumphant tale of eleven men in Blue walking away with the biggest trophy in European football.
Remember the semi-final defeats of past years to Liverpool and Monaco, remember 1971 and 1998, remember Peter Osgood and John Dempsey, remember the run to the final, remember Lampard’s penalty, remember Gus Poyet, Chris Sutton, Henning Berg (O.G), and Jody Morris, remember Mario Melchiot, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen, remember William Gallas, Joe Cole and Ricardo Carvalho!
They were the heroes of previous years, they were the results of previous years. Now forget them. Because on Wednesday night, there will be more history made for Chelsea Football Club.
Come on Chels!
Prediction: Win, win, win! At all costs! Should be a close game but I think we’ve got the edge and a lot of our players have the experience. I’m going for a narrow 1-0 or perhaps a 2-0 with a late one at the end to settle the nerves. Apparently we should be worried about this Portuguese fella they’ve got on the wing, I’ve heard he’s scored a few this season and he’s a real threat. Don’t think he’s played against us before though, I’ve definitely never heard him mentioned! But hang on, who’s that in Ashley Cole’s pocket…
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