The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Didier Drogba’s scriptwriter should take a bow. The Ivorian set about restoring his reputation in European competition after the infamous histrionics against Barcelona after the semi-final back in May, and he did so with the goals that thrust Chelsea into the knockout phase. The forward’s form this season has been impressive. His timing last night was just as impeccable.”
Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Maybe a glimpse of Chelsea’s future? Or what might have been? Two goals from Sergio Aguero and two from Didier Drogba left this contest balanced as a draw with Chelsea progressing to the knock-out stages of the Champions League. They considered signing Aguero in the summer but decided not to — a decision that may be revisited after his stunning goals — while the decision to retain Drogba has been vindicated.”
The Times, Oliver Butler: “Didier Drogba made a scoring return to European action to help Chelsea through to the last 16 of the Champions League, even though his brace could not help his side continue their 100 per cent record against Atletico Madrid tonight.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “The first draw of the season is enough for Chelsea to make the next stage of the Champions League, Didier Drogba scoring twice on the night. It was a game that exploded late on, the Blues coming from behind to take the lead with less than five minute remaining, only for substitute Sergio Aguero to equalise in stoppage time.”
We went into this game looking in great form, with Ancelotti masterminding some of the best football we have played for ages. Whilst not ignoring the small problems we may still have at the back, personally I have been completely won over by The Eyebrow after initially having my doubts. Twenty-eight league goals in only eleven games probably has something to do with that, and in fact our games this season currently involve on average 0.9 more goals than the matches in our two championship winning seasons recently (3.3 compared to 2.4).
After the experience with Scolari my biggest worry for a side playing the ‘diamond’ formation is that they will fail to score enough goals against well organized teams due to the midfield becoming congested, but Ancelotti has injected enough fluidity into the side to make sure this hasn’t been a problem so far. It says a lot about a team when the only doubts being mooted in the press are focused on a back five who haven’t conceded a goal in over 400 minutes of football in all competitions, and are yet to concede in the Champions League this season. Saying that, there are some question marks about this area – is Branners a better right-back than Bosingwa? Who should be picked at centre-back – will Carlo keep faith with an increasingly capricious Riccy or give Alex another chance to force his way into the team?
With sky-high expectations of another blitz similar to the game a fortnight ago it was inevitable we would pick a slightly weakened side. After all we are in a very strong position in our group and apparently we have a big match at the weekend against someone called Manchester Rovers or Manchester Athletic or something like that. Anyway, they are one of these clubs from up North with ‘history’ that are owned by rich Americans (the one managed by the anxious Scottish alcoholic rather than the anxious Spanish waiter). All this meant that we started with Carvalho, Ballack, Deco and Anelka on the bench, though there was a welcome return for Ashley Cole.
Notable players on Atletico’s teamsheet included Sinama Pongolle (if only because he is rubbish and was thankfully replacing the infinitely more dangerous Sergio Aguero), Diego Forlan, and Antonio Reyes who had missed the previous clash.
Chelsea: Cech, A. Cole, Terry (c), Alex, Belletti, Essien, Lampard, J. Cole, Malouda, Drogba, Kalou.
Atletico Madrid: Asenjo, Lopez, Juanito, Pablo, Assuncao (c), Simao, Santana, Forlan, Pongolle, Reyes.
The game started in quite a cagey fashion with Atletico enjoying a bit more of the play while we were happy to keep it tight and try to play our way into the game. Madrid managed a couple of long shots on goal without really causing a threat and after ten minutes I was ready for us to step it up a gear after it looked like we had begun to figure out the opposition. I was still waiting for us to really get a grip on the game when Reyes let rip after twenty minutes and forced Cech into a smart save.
That shot combined with a lively crowd helped galvanize the home team into upping their game slightly. It was still pretty even, and we produced a nice move ourselves around the half hour. It started in the back with Terry and Alex patiently passing it about until Terry could find Ashley Cole on the left with a lovely left-footed pass swept across the pitch, who then fed Malouda. Unfortunately like most of our play in the first half the ball into the final third wasn’t good enough and ended up being too high for Kalou. In general I felt like Madrid were the team more likely to score throughout the first half as they seemed more purposeful, though the final chance of the half ended up falling to Lampard who drove his shot narrowly wide. Overall it wasn’t a half to remember, and I took comfort knowing that we still had plenty of gears to move up.
After a period of reflection at half-time I had adjusted my expectations from Chelsea ‘blitzing’ Madrid to being ready to settle for any sort of win. I had decided that playing a match away at Atletico with a weakened side was going to be tricky, and as I was formulating this thought we nearly took the lead through a Drogba free kick which was well saved by Asenjo.
Madrid may not be having the best season but they can still play, and after Drogba’s effort they were again looking the more likely team to score. Maybe as a response to this home-team pressure Ballack was introduced at the expense of Essien after an hour, a decision I welcomed for two reasons – we always look better with Ze German on the pitch and also Ancelotti made the change early enough for it to hopefully change the game, something he hasn’t always done. So naturally Aguero had to then score and fuck up my theory that Ballack was about to turn the game in our favour. The ball was crossed into our area and as Terry headed it under pressure he could only clear it out to the diminutive Argentine at the far post, who volleyed home. If I was being harsh I could criticise Ashley for leaving Aguero free and challenging for a ball that Terry was already competing for, but in truth it was a good finish for the striker who had replaced Pongolle ten minutes earlier.
We began to look more interested after conceding and just as I was wondering how much better we would be with Deco and Anelka on the pitch they were brought on for Joe Cole and Kalou. Deco quickly had a chance to equalize when the ball fell to him after a cross was partially cleared, but his snatched shot skidded across the goal and wide. I think at this stage last season Deco would now have done the miraculous trick of disappearing from the game completely, but thankfully this season he has shown a lot more grit, determination, ability… frankly he looks a different player. Dribbling towards his own goal on the right of the pitch, he suddenly dropped a shoulder and turned his man, beat another, and sparked us into life. A corner resulted from Deco’s clever play which Madrid could only half clear before Malouda swung in a cross for Drogba to head and make it 1-1. It looked like we had finally got going 80 minutes in.
A few minutes later Ashley Cole fed the ball to Drogba who was momentarily caught between two defenders, but with some quick feet and bags of strength the Ivorian beat both players to go through on goal. If Didier has a weakness then it is that his finishing isn’t always very clinical, and his shot here was straight at Asenjo. Luckily the ball bounced kindly for him and he put away the rebound to give us a 2-1 lead.
So, after naming a weakened line-up and going a goal down we were ahead thanks to a Drogba brace and the introduction of three world class substitutes. Job done. Until Aguero scores a twenty-five yard free kick in injury time, spoiling the scoreline completely.
So we have qualified for the next stage anyway, even though we only drew tonight. I went into the game hoping that we would keep up the momentum for the United clash at the weekend but on balance I think Ancelotti did the right thing. This match was always likely to be difficult: the opposition had just got a new manager and his players are keen to impress, we had to avoid complacency after thrashing the opposition only 13 days ago, they didn’t even have to win the game after already collecting nine points in their group, and most of the team would have had half their thoughts on Sunday. A 2-2 draw was respectable, and the fact that we needed our best players on the pitch for the last twenty minutes to achieve this result is balanced by the fact that it was only twenty minutes that we needed them for. Saying that is still infuriates me how we often have to concede before we really start trying to score ourselves.
And what about those possible defensive frailties I mentioned earlier? I think the first goal we conceded was unfortunate in the way it fell to Aguero, and he also finished it well, so I can’t see much blame to attach there. The second was a very well taken free kick after a needless foul, which maybe shows a lack of concentration giving away a free kick that late – perhaps the players were already thinking of the next game, but again it wasn’t a goal symptomatic of a dodgy defence. I am confident that with Branners and Carvalho coming in at the weekend we should be OK.
Overall – 7/10 – not a great performance by our standards but we showed in the last twenty minutes that we have real underlying quality and almost won the game. It would be a 6 for performance alone but taking into account the result given that performance pushes it up to a 7.