John Terry might claim he has never watched a replay of his fateful penalty miss in the Champions League final two years ago, but he will find it hard to block out the memories of that painful night this evening, as Chelsea return to the Luzhniki Stadium to take on Spartak Moscow.
That night in summer 2008 was set to be the happy ending of a script that could have been written by Roman Abramovich himself – the claiming of the trophy he wanted to win more than any other, against English opposition, and played here of all places.
It didn't quite work out like that. Terry slipped, clipping a penalty that would have won the trophy on to Edwin van der Sar's post, and a few minutes later, Manchester United won.
Tonight's game will be Chelsea's first trip back to the home city of their billionaire owner, save their participation in the bizarre pre-season non-event that is the Russian Railways Cup, notable only for the fact that they again lost on penalties, this time to Lokomotiv Moscow.
Chelsea's manager Carlo Ancelotti went out of his way yesterday to claim that the ghosts of that night in 2008 won't play a part tonight. "I don't think that psychologically they will have a problem," Ancelotti said of the surviving players of the 2008 Champions League final, and Terry in particular.
"He has experience, and everyone knows that in football sometimes you can lose games." The Chelsea manager pointed to his own experience as manager of Milan, where he lost the 2005 Champions League final in supremely painful fashion against Liverpool, only to win it against the same opposition two years later. "I lost the final in 2005, but you have to look forward, and if you look forward with enthusiasm and character you can have revenge," said Ancelotti.
The Moscow game is probably not what Chelsea need right now, with the squad depleted through injury and the match coming just three days after their laboured 0-0 draw at Villa Park on Saturday. They have left Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Alex behind, and Ramires was ruled out last night.
The long flight across Europe, the Luzhniki Stadium's artificial pitch, and the Moscow weather, which is already turning from autumn to winter, will all make things difficult for the players who do start tonight. Chelsea may have cantered through most of the season so far, but their two trickiest away trips to date – to Manchester City and Aston Villa – have yielded no goals and just a single point.
Asked about the Luzhniki's infamous artificial pitch, Ancelotti said he couldn't say anything about the surface because the team had yet to train on it. "I can say nothing about this, because we didn't try this type of pitch," said the Italian. "I think we don't have a problem to play here I hope, maybe it's different, but I think it's one of the best artificial pitches in the world." However, he said he had not yet decided on the line-up for tonight's game as he wanted to see how different players responded to an evening training session on the artificial surface.
Spartak have injury worries of their own. The Russians will definitely be without their own Alex, their Brazilian captain, and Aiden McGeady, the £9.5m Irish international recently acquired from Celtic is recovering from a leg injury but may play a part. Free-scoring Brazilian striker Welliton, who has been out for two weeks with a hamstring injury, should make the bench at least, after managing to play for an hour in Spartak's 3-0 win over Alania Vladikavkaz last Friday.
Both sides look likely to progress from their Champions League group, having amassed six points from wins over Marseilles and MSK Zilina. Whoever wins tonight will be virtually assured of progress to the next round, while a draw would probably suit both sides well.
Yuri Zhirkov, back in the city where he spent five years with Spartak's rivals, CSKA Moscow, said that if picked, the game would have extra spice for him. "We always played against this team in derbies, and of course it will be an extra motivation," he said. "It's never my primary aim to score a goal, I play for the team, but if I can score tomorrow it would be nice." Terry would say the same.Reuse content