A little preamble
Well well well. Just a week or so after putting in a fine display as the backup writer, the blog’s very own Paulo Ferreira, despatched to the reserves but showing our Dear Supreme Leader and project manager in chief Nick himself that I can still do a turn, the great man himself has shown classic good taste by selecting me yet again for the follow-up report. Well in truth it’s more down to suspensions (Dr Blue Bayou for blatant ranting in the Churchillian style), illness (the good Lord Kaiser struck down yet again with familyitis, a condition where watching Chelsea is only given under medical orders by Nurse Kaiser and Nurse Kaiser Jr) and Mark Vingt-Cinq, still doing dodgy car park deals with Nigerians and bags of cash (allegedly).
So, when eventually re-asked I decided that yes, such is my pride at an all time low as I scrabble around for inspiration and dignity, I am here to write a brief précis of tonight’s game. If you don’t know the result then feel free to look away now… oh come on… if you don’t know the result then you’re a hermit with no access to any media, and therefore can’t be reading this.
Shouldn’t I disappear in a logic paradox at this point? To the game my friends, to the game…
The first half
For this game I am far more prepared, falling as it does on a night when I do not undertake any exercise other than lifting the remotes for the various systems I need to watch TV. And dinner had been consumed before the game rather than at half time. What could possibly go wrong? If the team has prepared much like me then we’d walk through tonight.
Err… this being Chelsea that was as far from true as possible.
No surprises on the team selection, RDM seems to know his top choices now and the players are buying into his reasoning.
The first thing of note is of course the hope that springs eternally from Chelsea fans, when in truth we all know that that hope is fatally flawed as we’re really playing for the right of the footballing equivalent of a boxing match between a prime time Muhammad Ali and Arthur Mullard (one for the teenagers there). Yes folks, a chance to be hosed by Barcelona again. And let’s be fair, we have as much chance as dear old Arthur would have had.
One more slight disadvantage for tonight. We were prime time on ShiteTV, a company that hates us more than Ed Miliband hates George Galloway.
So, Benfica started brightly and to be fair carried on brightly. At one point after about three minutes you suspected we were already caught between the rock and the hard place… defend the lead… or go for glory. Such is the curse of the first leg away goal lead. So we did neither really and the optimists in the Twitterverse and blogospheres were trying to convince the rest of us natural pessimists that we were merely riding out the storm.
Eventually we start to get a foothold but Benfica still hold the possession advantage as we simply can’t keep the ball, and Kalou even after 15 minutes or so had failed to do anything other than concede possession. Tonight he was to be the Ugly. However, on the odd occasion we could break we did look dangerous and eventually Mata found the net with an exquisite finish. Just a shame he was three yards offside and the lino spotted it. Torres ran manfully around but in truth he was starved of any meaningful service and the longer it went on the more it was looking like a long night of attrition football from our part. The one thing that was in our favour was the six yellow cards dished out by the ref, with the sixth being a second for Maxi who found himself wandering down the tunnel for an early shower.
Before this though a rare foray into Benfica’s area saw Cole brought down in the box and a penalty given. Step forward Lampard who scored although the keeper was perilously close to stopping it. I watched this on a replay because under recently passed Chelsea FC legislation I am not allowed to watch penalties. This protection law worked again as we once again scored. My record on this is damn near 100%. I’ve seen and heard this penalty described as ‘disputed’. Well they would, wouldn’t they? Disputed, yes, but dubious? No way. Replays showed it was a stone cold, nailed on penalty. UEFA must be ready to jettison yet another ref who hasn’t penalized us enough, but never mind I’m sure they have a ‘specialist’ lined up for the Barca games. The goal also meant that we would be spared both extra time and penalties. This is the good side of the away goal first leg lead. The goal also changes little because nothing much changes – if Benfica could muster two goals somehow then we’re out unless we score another. The arrogance from the ITV commentary team and pundits was the worst of everything arrogant about English football. Apparently them being down to 10 meant we’d breeze through. Do these people have filters that delete from memory every battling 10-man display?
For the rest of the half and even after the sending off Benfica still have the edge, although the diving antics from some were on the increase. Especially their forwards, Daley and Cousteau. Through all of this Kalou was utterly dismal, constantly failing to find a pass or even get past a Benfica player. As the half goes on we picked up a yellow for Ivan and Ramires and the way this ref was waving them about you couldn’t help feel we might be level in terms of on-field personnel as well.
The second half
No changes, but I’m refreshed with some rather naughty Caramel Chocolate Digestives. Surely we’ll be better this half? If we can get a second goal then surely we’ll be safe. If. There’s that bloody hope again. We did get an early corner but JT couldn’t get his header on target but we did look calmer and more up for the game. Kalou however was still dismally giving the ball away. This boy really needs to be much better if he is to stay. I suspect he won’t be though. But as the game progressed it was obvious we were still in the stick or twist dilemma and them being down to 10 seemed to have made that even more acute. The first sign was a great opportunist strike from Cardoso equalled only by a great save from Cech. And then Kalou finally woke up and did something useful. He wriggled onto a cross-field ball and played a shot/cross across the goal. All it needed was a tap from Ramires but he transpired instead to fluff the shot and actually knock it away from goal and the oncoming Torres. I love Ramires and tonight he worked so hard, but sorry mate, this was a far worse miss than Torres versus Manchester United. Benfica remained unbowed and kept on at us, although to be fair we did create chances with Torres being denied by a great deflection from a Benfica defender. Minutes later, both Mata and Torres came close again. However, a trademark of our season has been missed chances and if we seriously want to give Barca a decent scrap then we need to take them because there won’t be that many.
As the half goes on, any neutral observer or latecomer would be hard pushed to see which team was down to 10. Peter Watts (@peter_watts) of this parish claimed it was cruise control in a tweet to me and Fatty Faulkner (@fattyfaulkner). But me and the big man thought it was a combination of arrogance, complacency, tiredness and nerves. To be honest we were pretty dismal and our control of the ball and ability to pass and keep possession was Sunday League at times. This is not to say any players were bad, even Kalou seemed to pick up from his rotten form through the game, but it just wasn’t gelling. Chances did come but to be honest, you just knew they’d not go in. JT was subbed for Cahill due to a rib injury, but this is not a point of concern and I’m happy because I now believe we have the makings of a back four to stop anybody.
Then on 85 minutes, just as feared. Just as some of us expected. Just as much as Benfica deserved, they equalized from a corner. Defenders were caught napping, but the excellent Cech slipped back to his worst AVB days by remaining rooted to the spot as Garcia ran Ivanovic like (versus Villa) into space and headed home. Expletives delivered loudly, but in fairness we got what we deserved for being for the most parts utter shite against the 10. And now the last five minutes became incontinence pants* time and adult nappy time*.
*Note to the club. These could be supplied much like lifejackets on boats and planes by affixing them under the seats. Demos from uniformed ground staff not required, we can work out their use ourselves.
And still Benfica came, rockets up arses, bits between teeth, noses to the grindstones, arses well and truly in gear. Drogba came on for the hard working but under-served Torres (he also needs to be more selfish though, as pointed out by Townsend of all people, he’s played his mates in enough for them to score). However he had little time to do anything and in fact his notable contribution was to concede a free kick in our midfield. Aimar put the ball into the box and the impressive (again) Mikel headed strongly out. Meireles (on for Mata) went for the 50-50 ball and won it getting past for a lightning break up the park. He could have passed. He had options. But as noted in the previous report, such is the apparent hatred between Benfica and him he slashed a shot from 20 yards. There was a millisecond of silence across the Chelsea multi-verse as everyone sat here trying to work out if he’d scored or not. The huge jangling noise from the multitudes of pennies dropping on the realization that he had in fact just won the tie for us.
Game over. Within seconds, rather than let us watch the players hugging and the joy, ShiteTV went straight to the break. They really are UC’s of the highest order.
But the groaning noise and methane based anal emissions of several thousand bowels going into relief was palpable. And maybe that was the right moment for a ‘comfort break’ for all the Chelsea fans.
What? No ratings? No Good, Bad and Ugly?
No. There really is no time now, so tonight just a plain old summary
The only real poor individual performance for me was from Kalou. Yes, he works hard but tonight he was a liability and proof (for me) yet again that he is not the 90-minute player but is at best a benchwarmer that can add a dimension for short spells. Luiz was good again without hitting last week’s heights and to be honest when you look at all the team they all did OK, it just didn’t gel and as I say it may have been a number of things but to be kind I’ll say it was nerves and indecisiveness. Stick or twist and in the end we did neither, opting instead for a no man’s land of mostly piss-poor football. Our man of the match for me though was the increasingly impressive Mikel Obi, so take a bow because with each passing game he is commanding more and more of the play and if he carries on he’ll be the prefect blend of Makelele and Ballack.
The important thing is even though we were decidedly poor we still won the game. And very few seasoned fans ever thought this would be easy. None with any semblance of knowledge about the game and about Chelsea anyway. We still managed to set up a match against our uber-nemesis, the tippy-tappy diving wankfest that is Barcelona. If we are to play and beat Barcelona then we have to keep 11 on the pitch and it has to be ugly. Like I say Arthur Mullard versus Muhammed Ali in his prime, floating and stinging with ferocious speed. Except even dear old Arthur won’t be ugly enough in this case. And as I have no wish to make Arthur even uglier by scarring him, the only solution is drastic. We will have to be Arthur Mullard wearing a Luke Chadwick mask with a Steve Austin arm. Big, ugly with a super strong occasional punch. More references for the teenagers there. Then we may just have a chance.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!
The press reports
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “Stamford Bridge, once again, feels like a happy place to be. It has been a difficult, frequently ignominious season and there was a point last night, almost inexplicably, when it seemed there could be one more excruciating low, but the team deserve their place in the semi-finals despite the late scare when everything threatened to go horribly wrong.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Jason Burt: “And now for Barcelona. But only just. The aggregate result appeared relatively comfortable but this was another instalment in the nerve-jangling, controversy-ridden, last-gasp Champions League football that Chelsea appear to have patented over the years.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “So near and yet, for now, Chelsea feel so very far from the possibility of a second final of the Abramovich years. Standing in the way in the semi-finals is a familiar enemy and one that seems to discover new and devastating ways to break the hearts of their opponents with every game that they win. This is Barcelona in 2012. This is the biggest test any team of this generation will face.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “It took a late Raul Meireles goal to settle Chelsea nerves after a game drifting towards a comfortable if unspectacular home win was brought back to life by an 84th minute Benfica goal. It was a much stronger performance by the Lisbon club than had been witnessed on their home turf but after Frank Lampard had put his side ahead from the penalty spot and the visitors had been reduced to 10 men by a sending off for Maxi Pereira, Chelsea were well on course for the semi-finals. Roberto Di Matteo’s men should have put the tie beyond all doubt in the second half but missed a handful of good chances and were then punished for poor set-piece defending by a Benfica side that had always carried a threat. Javi Garcia made it 1-1. Fortunately with the Portuguese outfit committing men forward in stoppage time for the goal that would have sent them into the semi-final, Chelsea landed the sucker punch.”