The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: "Chelsea have their quarter-final and scars aplenty to show for this skirmish with the Old Lady. A frenzied evening marked by a flurry of goals and cards, a timely reward for a player whose season had appeared wrecked by injury, and some bizarre decisions from the officials ended with Guus Hiddink’s side safely ensconced in the last eight. They may not have sent shockwaves across Europe, but at least there is evidence that the resilience is back."
The Times, Matt Hughes: "Chelsea have become experts in navigating their way through the latter stages of this competition, reaching the semi-finals in four of the past five years, and this latest group of players are equally tournament-savvy. As with Liverpool, Chelsea’s main men seem to raise their game on the biggest of European nights, with Petr Cech producing his best performance for some time and Didier Drogba arriving in the nick of time to score the 83rd-minute goal that secured their passage. Even those boys in blue short of their best, such as Michael Ballack, dug in to contribute when it mattered, playing a great pass to Juliano Belletti, a substitute, who crossed for Drogba’s equaliser."
The Independent, Glenn Moore: "Didier Drogba, whose disaffection was symbolic of Chelsea’s mood under Luiz Felipe Scolari, underlined his rejuvenation, and subsequent status as the key player in Guus Hiddink’s successful start, with the crucial goal in Piedmont last night."
Daily Telegraph, John Ley: "Guus Hiddink decided to gamble by recalling Essien, but if it was a risk, then Essien did not disappoint, his lungs and legs lasting admirably before being substituted midway through the second half. Once again, the Dutchman displayed an ability to do no wrong. He may be insistent that his tenure at Chelsea will last only until the end of the season but, with each success, he is making it increasingly harder for Roman Abramovich not to offer him the world to stay at Stamford Bridge."
Official Chelsea FC Website: "For Essien it was the moment he has been dreaming about for six months, and it came seconds before half-time to alter the complexion of a contest that had been going against Chelsea following Juventus’s 14th minute opener."
So, five wins out of five under the leadership of Master Hiddink and everything seems to have returned to normal. We’re back up to second in the league, grinding out the wins and for the first time in a long while, we seem to have a slight swagger about us. Real Chelsea fans can certainly see through the hyperbole from the journalists that Hiddink has solved all our problems and that we’ve gone back to being Jose’s winning machine, but we’ve certainly turned ourselves into contenders for at least two trophies this season. Strolling past Coventry at the weekend was greeted with a general “so what” from a lot of us as we still had a Jose mindset of expecting to walk past lower league opposition but that victory showed how far we’d come under Hiddink. Just a few weeks ago that Coventry game would have given some of us some sleepless nights as we worried about our attitude and spirit but now we fully expect to stroll to victory. That, along with the resurgence of Drogba has been the defining feature of Hiddink’s short but successful reign so far. We now look organised, fit and confident and each win only adds to the momentum we’re slowly building. If we can get so close in a season of chaos like last year, then perhaps trouble-shooter Hiddink can lead us to ultimate glory.
Guus had a number of choices to decide between for this away-leg. I think our last victory came all the way back in Rosenborg in 2007 and since that snowy night we haven’t seen a win against Schalke, Olympiakos, Fenerbahce, Liverpool, Manchester United, Cluj, Roma or Bordeaux. Away ties in the Champions League have always appeared tricky for us ever since that nightmare night in Barcelona when Vialli attempted a suicidal, 10 men behind the ball tactic, trying to hold onto a lead. Added into the mix were the return to fitness of Essien, Carvalho and Anelka. So, Guus decided to change from our regular 4-3-3 and dropped the misfiring Malouda and Kalou. Instead, we lined up in a compact yet powerful 4-1-3-2 with Drogba and Anelka finally being paired together up front, Mikel trying to nullify the threat of Nedved in front of Terry and Alex and a midfield three of Lampard, Ballack and Essien trying to overpower the Juventus midfield. We’d be up against an attacking looking Juventus side, who lined-up with three strikers and Nedved being given a free role. It certainly wasn’t a must-win and an away goal would have meant Juve needed three to go through, but it would definitely be a nervy night.
A messy start with us looking exposed down the flanks as our compact midfield struggled to stop an early barrage of crosses from Juve. Nedved looked bright in his free role but was quickly put in his place thanks to a collision with the returning Essien and he was duly subbed. Already Essien had announced his return in the best possible way. However, after 10 minutes we began to find our feet with some neat passing and our almost absurdly powerful midfield began to impose themselves on the game. But then Juve burst into life. The cumbersome Alex decided to stand off Trezeguet who gladly took advantage of this awful defending by turning and cushioning a pass through to Iaquinta who simply slotted past Cech. A poor goal to concede and now we needed to score to avoid the dreaded penalty shootout. The drifting Del Piero and two raiding full-backs were hurting us with our narrow midfield looking confused and Ballack again struggling to keep pace with the game. We managed to weather the storm but we hadn’t yet created a meaningful chance and had appeared to have reverted back to the bad old Scolari days. Our main tactic appeared to be a meaningless triangle of passes between Mikel, Cole and Anelka who would aimlessly send in a cross to no-one. It was a very poor first half at this point, with two wayward shots from Ballack and Anelka being our only attempts at goal. Then a Tiago handball led to a great free-kick from Didier who squeezed it in at the near post, or did he?. The team went up in celebration but still there was no goal. It was Anfield all over again. Was it, wasn’t it? It wasn’t given despite the replays showing the ball behind the line. However, seconds later an angry Lamps powered in a trademark drive only for Buffon to tip it onto the bar. Finally Essien said fuck it, I’ll stick it in whilst the rest of you are missing and he arrived to confirm that precious away goal. Surely we were through to the next round? Despite the goal, it was a very poor first half from us, as reflected by Wilkins’ half-time interview. Ranieri’s attacking line-up was exposing our narrow midfield and the side looked a little leggy. Remarkably, our man-of-the-match so far and with seemingly all the energy in the world was the Bison, Michael Essien. Ballack, however looked off the pace, with the game passing him by as he continued to give the ball away.
Guus made a subtle change at half time and adopted a more rigid 4-1-4-1 with Anelka and Essien being given the task of stopping their attacking full-backs. Drogba and Essien were starting to control the second half and our not so subtle time wasting tactics began to frustrate the Juve players and crowd. However, Juve still looked dangerous and an unmarked Del Piero should have done better from another Juve cross. The Tinkerman sent on the tricky and pacy Giovinco as he searched for the remaining two goals he needed. A Cech cock-up as he handled outside the box whilst trying to stop a corner awoke Juve who put together a great passing move which resulted in an unmarked Trezeguet, who again escaped from Alex’s marking, forcing a brilliant save from Cech. Hiddink responded by bringing on Belletti for Essien trying to shore up our right flank. Juve were pushing forward with Del Piero and Giovinco finding space behind our midfield and the pressure led to a stupid foul by Bosingwa. Cech however, brilliantly gathered the dangerous Giovinco’s free-kick. We were looking fragile but we did have chances to counter-attack, one of which led to a desperate tackle by Chiellini to stop Drogba running forward, who was shown his second yellow and a subsequent red. We couldn’t possibly mess it up from here, could we? Well we could try. An idiotic handball from Belletti, doing his best goalkeeping impression, led to a penalty, which Del Piero stroked in. We needed to calm down and hold out for the next 20 minutes as Juve poured forward and Claudio made his final sub by bringing on the Drogba-esque Amauri as we looked all over the place. Rome here we come! Not exactly at this rate. But then we exploded into life. Terry sent a sublime 50 yard ball to Belletti who cushioned it down for Ballack. He feinted to shoot but slid in Belletti who sent over a perfect cross for Drogba to turn into the net. It was a brilliant goal which showed how well we can play as well as the experience and class of Ballack. All you could hear were the faint chants of the couple of thousand Chelsea fans, perched in a corner of the stadium as hoards of Juve fans exited the ground. We could easily have got a third to continue Guus’ 100% record but Buffon continued to keep us out. The final bonus was the return of Carvalho in place of the elephant like Alex as well as the closing chants of “we’re untouchable” from the brilliant Chelsea fans. One slight negative though, was our amazing ability to pick up needless yellow cards which will undoubtedly harm us in future rounds. It was a very nervy night, which again ended without an away win but we’re though, so who cares?
- Petr Cech. Apart from his handball, he looked something close to his best. He made some brilliant saves, most notably from Trezeguet and collected some dangerous crosses to relieve some of the growing pressure in the second half.
- Didier Drogba. He was absolutely brilliant in the second half as he terrorised their centre-backs, helping to get one sent off, sprayed around 60 yard passes and helped defend the fragile aggregate lead. He seems a new player under Hiddink but appeared a lot more effective in the second half when Anelka was shifted out to the left wing and he was given the lone striker role. I would bet that Anelka and not Drogba will be sold this summer as we bring in the left winger we plainly need.
- Our fans. Never stopped singing and their support for Ashley Cole and the side was brilliant tonight.
- Michaal Essien. How we’ve missed him. May still be unfit but his energy and awesome power were hugely important tonight. The narrow 4-1-3-2 may not have worked tonight but he is definitely an untouchable in my eyes along with Cech, JT, Ashley, Frank and Drogba. His return may spur us on to glory in May.
- Sebastian Giovinco. Changed the game with his pace and trickery and a possible left-field option to solve our left-wing problem.
- Frank Lampard. Didn’t score but his experience and drive were crucial tonight. Plus he’s a personal favourite and hopefully his inclusion will piss Moffat off.
- Tactics. I’m certainly not sticking the knife into Guus but the tactics tonight looked a little off. Firstly, the 4-1-3-2 gamble just didn’t work. We were too narrow and Juve exploited it to send over a barrage of crosses. It had the potential to turn into a Monaco-esque debacle but Guus made a good change at half-time as he sent the side out to defend the 1-1 in a 4-1-4-1 formation. But as Drogba said after the match, the players didn’t know what to do in the second half. Should they go for the second goal to kill the game or hold onto the 1-1? He went on to say that the side got even more confused as Juve went down to ten men. We sat back, invited Juve onto us and conceded a second goal and it was this which triggered our reaction. Guus is certinaly more tactically astute than Phil but tonight, everything looked a little muddled.
- Alex. Awful. Too slow, too cumbersome and was at fault for their first goal. He also regularly failed to mark his man as Juve sent over cross after cross. The return of Ricky in stoppage time was greeted with relief and I’d happily back the club if they want to sell him this summer.
- Juliano Belletti. A very good assist should not mask his defensive failings. He failed to protect Bosingwa in the second half and his idiotic hand ball could have sent us out of the Champions League.
Some may wonder if Ballack should be included here but his second half performance was a huge improvement on his first and his experience and class helped seal our passage through to the quarter-finals.
It’s out of 10, okay Moffat?
- Petr Cech – 8/10 – Dominated at crosses and set-pieces and is nearly back to his best.
- Jose Bosingwa – 6/10 – His casual defending is starting to annoy me but he did provide a good outlet in the seoncd half as we counter attacked.
- John Terry – 6/10 – Very solid. Seems to miss Ricky’s pace but did nothing wrong tonight.
- Alex – 4/10 – I just don’t like him. He’s an elephant in my eyes and should never have forced Ivanovic out of the side and possibly the club.
- Ashley Cole – 6/10 – Another personal favourite of mine. I don’t really care what he does off the pitch but on it, he’s in a straight fight with Lamps for player of the year.
- John Obi Mikel – 5/10 – A little harsh perhaps but he had a shaky start as he lost Nedved and struggled to cope with Del Piero and Giovinco constantly dropping off into that ‘No. 10’ position he should have been controlling. I still want him to retain his place as Essien would be wasted there.
- Frank Lampard – 7/10 – We seemed to avoid passing to him in the first 20 minutes but when he got into the game he helped us keep the ball and drive us forward. It was his shot which got us back into the game and his currently just ahead of Ashley in the player of the year race.
- Michael Ballack – 6/10 – A shocker of a first half as he constantly gave the ball away and struggled to adapt to the high tempo of Juve’s game. But his experience and class in the second half saw us through. He may steer us to Champions League glory but this season will surely be his last.
- Mickael Essien – 8/10 – A brilliant return. His pace, power and energy are a great addition and could act like the best ever transfer window signing.
- Nicolas Anelka – 5/10 – Pretty anonymous and failed to take his chance when paired with Drogba as a front two. Drifted to the left wing where we hardly saw him in the second half. Despite his goals, he’ll never beat an on-form Drogba and is my tip for the exit ramp in this summer’s squad overhaul.
- Didier Drogba – 8/10 – He’s back. As simple as that. With him in the side, anything is possible this season.
- Juliano Belletti (sub) – 5/10 – A good assist but that idiotic handball and his defensive deficiencies nearly cost us. He’s not a right-back or right-midfielder in any way as he just can’t defend well enough. A defensive midfield backup maybe but Mancienne can also play there and Belletti could potentially be for the chop this summer.
Man of the Match
I’ll give it to Drogba. Cech did keep us in the game in the second half but the return of Didier has been awesome. He can still terrorise defences and he’ll be crucial against Arsenal at Wembley and the Emirates to continue our FA Cup and Premier League campaigns but more importantly he can still dominate any defence in Europe on his own. Provided we don’t face United in the next round, I feel he can drive us forward all the way to Rome.
We knew it’d be nervy and we nearly messed it up but in the end we deservedly went through. As I said in the intro, we know we are far from a return to that winning machine but tonight did show that we now have a spirit and determination not to fold in the face of adversity. I am certain that we would have lost that match under Scolari as Juve went 2-1 up, instead Hiddink has restored our fighting spirit and our response was brilliant. Watching him on Chelsea TV last week, Guus said that success this season will be determined by how our spine performs in the run in. On present form, our spine of Cech, JT, Essien, Lamps and Didier should lead us to glory come May.