BACK DOWN TO EARTH
Chelsea were brought back down to earth after the 5-0 win against Sunderland on the weekend, defeated 3-1 by Luciano Spalletti’s Roma in the Stadio Olimpico. Awful defending saw Panucci strike the first goal, followed by a stunner from Vucinic, who then scored the third after a string of errors from Mikel. John Terry grabbed one back with fifteen minutes remaining, but the ludicrous sending off of Deco for the heinous crime of taking a quick free kick, put paid to any thoughts of a Chelsea comeback.
It was the Portuguese who was involved in the first serious action of the match, sending a rocket towards goal from 30 yards that Doni saw late and tipped around the post. Scolari’s side contained just one change, Bridge in for the injured Ashley Cole, and the advantage of continuity showed as Chelsea knocked the ball around with poise and confidence.
The Roma ‘keeper twice denied Lampard, firstly down low at the near post and secondly flying to his left, as the England midfielder let fly after neat interplay with Deco in midfield. Chelsea were looking comfortable and in control.
However that all change in the 34th minute. Deco caught Totti late, the Roma skipper throwing in a few extra rolls for good measure. Deco received his first caution of the game. The free kick was played wide to Cicinho, the Brazilian right back crossing low and finding former Chelsea defender Christian Panucci, who opened the scoring with an accomplished finish. The Chelsea defence was static, Terry and Alex at fault, as Panucci strode into the six yard box unmarked. Cech was understandably furious.
Clearly unimpressed, Scolari made two changes at half time, replacing both Joe Cole and Florent Malouda. Didier Drogba and Juliano Belletti were introduced, the formation switching to 4-4-2. It made little difference, as Chelsea were soon 2-0 down.
Brighi and Totti combined down the left, before picking out Vucinic. The Roma forward let fly with a first time 20 yard shot that flew past the diving Cech and into the back of the net. Having dominated the match, Chelsea were now two goals in arrears.
Two became three before the hour, as Vucinic netted his second. Mikel strode forward, but was casually robbed by the forward. Vucinic accelerated away from the Nigerian midfielder, whose sliding tackle was horridly timed, allowing Vucinic to skip further clear, before burying the shot past Cech for his second goal of the night. Comical defending from Mikel – but brilliant forward play from Vucinic.
Desperately seeking a way to unlock the Roma defence, Scolari threw on Kalou for Bosingwa, with Belletti moving to right back. Chelsea piled men forward and were reward with fifteen minutes to go, Terry scoring against Roma just as he did at Stamford Bridge. Deco arrowed a shot goalwards from the left of the penalty box, which Terry touched towards goal. Doni made a fantastic reaction save, only for the Chelsea captain to calmly slot the rebound in with his left foot. There was hope yet for the Blues.
But any chances of a miraculous comeback were dampened as Deco was sent off by referee Cantalejo, for – of all things – taking a quick free kick, or as Chelsea columnist Giles Smith put it, “booked for not time wasting”. The referee, clearly at the end of his tether, had no hesitation in producing a second yellow card for the Portuguese midfielder, who was sent from the field despite his passionate protests. Most saw it coming, regardless of the manner in which it occurred.
And so, Chelsea played out the remainder of the match with ten men, substitute Julio Baptista briefly threatening for Roma, before our favourite European goalscorer, John Arne Riise, was introduced with two minutes remaining in place of Cicinho.
Awful lapses in concentration were principally responsible for Chelsea’s defeat in a match where the Blues started in control, and were by far the more threatening. Scolari expressed his disappointment after the match at the way Chelsea fell even further behind after conceding the first, whilst Deco will miss the next match through suspension.
The Blues remain at the top of group A by one point, and take on Blackburn Rovers this weekend. After the way Sunderland copped the reaction to our defeat by Liverpool, Paul Ince’s side have plenty to worry about as Scolari’s men turn their attention back to action on the home front.
Roma (4-1-2-1-2): Doni; Cicinho (Riise 88), Mexes, Juan, Panucci; De Rossi; Perrotta (Taddei 72), Brighi; Pizarro; Totti (Baptista 62), Vucinic.
Manager Luciano Spalletti
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Kalou 62), Alex, Terry (c), Bridge; Mikel; J Cole (Belletti h-t), Deco, Lampard, Malouda (Drogba h-t); Anelka.
Manager Felipe Scolari
Referee Luis Cantalejo (Spain)