Chelsea on brink after Di Matteo's gamble with Torres backfires
Wednesday 21 November 2012
It was only six months since the miracle of Munich, but after the tumult of Turin last night that magical day in the history of Chelsea must feel like a very long time ago for Roberto Di Matteo.
Barring a scenario in which Shakhtar Donetsk beat Juventus in Ukraine in two weeks' time, and Di Matteo's team beat Nordsjaelland, then Chelsea will be out at the group stage of the Champions League come next month. They barely need reminding that they will be the first defending champions to exit at that stage in the history of the new format competition.
With a team that had won just one in six matches before last night, Di Matteo was inevitably forced into the biggest change of all – leaving out Fernando Torres. The problem was the alternatives. There is not one in the squad. Torres came on for the last 20 minutes and made precious little difference but by then the goals from Fabio Quagliarella and Arturo Vidal had put the game beyond their reach before Sebastian Giovinco's late third.
With Andrea Pirlo passing a young Chelsea team into submission, and the excellent Vidal influential, Chelsea were crushed in a fashion that is rare for them. In the past they might have dug in and caught their opposition cold on the counter-attack with Didier Drogba, but Drogba is gone and he has not been replaced. There were times at the start of the first half when it looked like Chelsea might cave in and they came to rely, as ever, on the presence of Petr Cech in goal in the early stages. He blocked a back-post shot from Stephan Lichtsteiner with his knee in the fourth minute. Later he got down to push a shot from Claudio Marchisio wide of the near post.
The trick was to prevent themselves from being engulfed by Juventus in those early stages and Chelsea achieved that. It would be pushing it to say that Chelsea were comfortable but they had come through something of a storm when finally Juventus broke through on 38 minutes. Andrea Pirlo had been conscientiously pulling the strings in midfield all evening when he got possession yet again after Ramires slipped. The midfielder hit a shot that Cech would have had covered were it not for the deft touch of Quagliarella to change the direction of the ball and beat the goalkeeper.
In the first 15 minutes after the break, Chelsea had created precious little and there was little to remember their attacking play. By contrast, the menace from Juventus grew all the time with Cech only just shepherding Quagliarella wide of the goal in the 59th minute.
Shortly afterwards the Chile international Vidal scored with a shot from Kwadwo Asamoah's cross from the left side. His strike took a critical deflection off Ramires on its way in and the feeling was that Cech would have had the shot covered if it had stayed true.
Torres came on in the last 20 minutes, with Victor Moses already having replaced Cesar Azpilicueta, but Chelsea did not look any better in attack. Giovinco broke free late on and with Cech ludicrously far off his line, the Juventus substitute scored. Chelsea had been well beaten.
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