Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “Another year, another semi-final. For the fourth time in five seasons, Chelsea reached the last four of the Champions League and they enjoyed some Turkish delight, albeit with two hardly impressive displays. At least it offers the club another – some would argue, their best – chance to finally claim their Holy Grail that is Europe’s greatest domestic prize.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “After Michael Ballack had calmed nerves with a fourth-minute header, Chelsea endured moments of real anxiety, most notably when Hilário, the substitute goalkeeper – he was a first-half replacement for Carlo Cudicini, who went off because of a hamstring injury – was called on to make two saves in the space of a minute. Then Frank Lampard settled things with an 87th-minute volley.”
The Guardian, David Hytner: “Had Hilario, on for the injured Carlo Cudicini, not smuggled the substitute Ugur Boral’s volley past his post, as Chelsea anxieties were at their height or, moments later, beaten away Kazim Kazim’s rasping drive from distance, it might have been Fenerbahce eyeing a semi-final date with Liverpool. Grant resolutely stuck with five men in his midfield in the second-half and when he withdrew Joe Cole the home crowd howled.”
The Independent, Jason Burt: “This was no epic quarter-final, against a limited Fenerbahce, who failed to provide any real threat but ended up running Chelsea close. This was no touchline tussle between coaches of huge ability and greater ego.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Once again, the Blues made sure the fans were kept on the edge of their seats as early superiority wasn’t translated into more goals following a dream start.”
Another night in Europe, but no Bucks Fizz performance here, more of a Gina G with us being favourites but not performing greatly on the night but still getting a reasonable result. Still, unlike West Ham we’ll be in Europe next year without writing a song being our best chance…
- The result. We did enough to get through but there were shades of the performance against Middlesbrough at home, when an early goal might threaten an avalanche, but instead just one more solitary rather sad snowball rolls down. Anticlimactic is a good word, one I should use more often.
- Michael Essien. Magnificent tonight and obviously the ‘body-snatched’ clone has been discovered and locked away again to be replaced with the original passionate and committed ‘Bison’.
- Michael Ballack. For his first half of strutting arrogance, a great little flicked header for an early goal and for just looking like the real deal.
- The defence. Edging somewhere back to its best with Ricardo Carvalho the man providing the control and passion. A better game for John Terry as well, and Essien doing a good job as a marauding right-back. Ashley Cole must be very close to his best Arsenal form.
- The performance. Great flamboyant start with an early goal and I bet most of you, like me, were thinking another Olympiakos. But Fenerbahce are made of sterner stuff and like ‘Boro and Manchester City did against us they slowly edged their way back into the game. By half time the goal was all that separated the teams because by then Fenerbahce looked every bit the equal of us.
- Claude Makelele. The old boy has been a marvel lately but tonight his passing and tackling was dire. Douglas Bader would have been more elegant and timely.
- Carlo Cudicini’s injury. So, miracles notwithstanding, it’s Hilario against Wigan and Everton. Oh dear. To be fair he’s never done that badly but our defence patently doesn’t have the same faith in him as Cudicini and Petr Cech. Carlo does seem more prone these days when Petr is injured and I’m just wondering whether it’s time to offer him a coaching role as he may not be fit enough to play at this level any more. Not all ‘keepers go on until they’re 40.
- Essien’s booking. Stupidly unnecessary, but good in the fact that it shows the passion is back. He’ll be missing at Anfield, but I’m sure John Mikel Obi can do a similar job if required.
- The Anfield result. It would have been nice to have met Arsenal in the semis for once because that might have been an entertaining game, but the truth, and we know it, is that we and the Great British Chelsea hating public now face 180 minutes at the very least of turgid, uninspiring dross from the combined masters of mechanical, efficient sleep-inducing football. The irony here is that both head coaches, Rafael Benitez and Avram Grant believe themselves to be exactly the opposite. Sometimes irony just isn’t funny though…
- The atmosphere. Was it just me or did Stamford Bridge sound flat? On the odd sneaky flick to the Anfield game the noise from our hub-cap borrowing friends seemed to bleed through the screen. I’ll happily stand corrected but it would be indicative of recent games (bar Arsenal) at the Bridge. Were our fans really singing ‘We’re supposed to be at home’?
- Juliano Belletti. Looks like a box of fireworks went off in his face and someone used a shovel on it to put out the flames. Played like Guy Fawkes as well.
- Carlo Cudicini: It may be time to call it a day on the fitness front – 6/10.
- Michael Essien: The beast is back. Powerful runs and great passing. Silly booking loses him a very high mark – 8/10.
- John Terry: Nearly there Johnny, nearly there. Tell you what… have a good break at the end of season. In fact take the whole summer off by telling Fabio Capello where to stick his captaincy – 7/10
- Ashley Cole: Another good game… is it me or is he looking thinner. Must be losing a lot of fluid somewhere – 8/10.
- Ricardo Carvalho: If he grew his hair he could work as a Gilbert O’ Sullivan lookalike. If such a demand existed… – 8.5/10.
- Claude Makelele: Can anyone smell rotten fish? – 5/10.
- Frank Lampard: I am the Invisible Man, I am the Invisible Man… as the Queen song goes… then he pops up from nowhere to score and ruin my joke. Bastard – 7/10.
- Michael Ballack: BMW first half. Volkswagen with flashes of Trabant second half – 7.5/10.
- Joe Cole: Have you read about Samson, and how shit he became as a winger once his hair was cut? Average game. Grow it back Joe – 7/10.
- Salomon Kalou: Is he the next Scarecrow for the Wizard of Oz? – 7/10.
- Didier Drogba: Huffed, puffed and will undoubtedly win Dancing on Ice one day. Complained bitterly about being left up the pitch alone in the second half and it’s easy to see why – 7/10.
- Hilario (sub): Called into action after Carlo’s injury. Oddly enough he has never really let us down, but thought he was kicking a beach ball at first – 7/10.
- Florent Malouda (sub): A cameo, but still did nothing much bar one shot. A poor investment akin to bunging your life savings into Northern Rock – 6/10.
- Juliano Belletti (sub): I once said about him that Carlsberg don’t make right-backs… well now it’s Kestrel Lager don’t make right-backs… but if they did… – 4/10.
- Overall team performance: In the evangelists’ corner… professional, cool, controlled, effective. In the realists’ corner, professional, turgid, uninspired, dull, nervy – 7/10.
Man of the Match
Michael Essien. Even a silly yellow card can’t detract from a marauding, battling display that was much more like we’ve come to know, love and cherish.
And so, it’s another semi-final, our fifth apparently. Once again we’ll be entertaining and entertained by Jesse ‘Hicks’ James and Robert ‘Gillett’ Ford, along with Tubby Benitez and his crew of Euro Big Cup scrappers, led by the incorrigible Stevie ‘Me’ Gerrard.
I use the words ‘entertained’ and ‘entertaining’ in the very loosest sense here. I foresee a 1-0 win over the two legs with the winning goal coming in the 6th minute of extra time at the Bridge, via the first shot of the entire two games hitting the post, bouncing off Didier Drogba’s hand, onto Pepe Reina’s arse, and bouncing over Stevie Me’s outstretched leg with him whining at a pitch that has every bat in the locale flocking into the arena.
But I’ll take that.
With Gerrard, Steve Finnan and Jamie Carragher in the team I suggest SW6 locks its pet dogs up on the night we play them at home for fear of driving them mad with the high pitch Scouse whining.
I think quite a few of us wanted Arsenal in the semi simply because the matches would have been entertaining, and for the pessimist amongst us, it would have made a change to lose to someone else.
But we’re there. On a night when Grant to my mind still made questionable changes (barring the enforced one), neither of which was to our detriment, nor to our benefit, then we have to say we have done far better than most of us expected in the competition. Without re-opening the endless Grant debate I still feel our progress is more player related than coach inspired. Once again Steve Clarke looked about as interested in the game as George Michael at a lesbian orgy. Under Jose Mourinho we expected this sort of progress but I didn’t think we could do it under Grant. The Humble Pie lorry may still be on its way to me.
One last thought… is this what it feels like to be a Liverpool fan, constantly pleasantly surprised by good results?
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!