Deco walks as Chelsea retreat in face of Roman onslaught
AS Roma 3 Chelsea 1
Wednesday 05 November 2008
Two defeats in four games? It is not a crisis at Chelsea but it is suddenly a lot less comfortable. A late afternoon deluge had put this game in serious doubt and then Chelsea's Champions League hopes also took a severe dousing as they succumbed – capitulated more like – to a resurgent Roma to leave qualification in the balance. To add insult they also had Deco sent off – his second caution coming, somewhat ridiculously, for taking a free-kick too quickly.
Their manager Luiz Felipe Scolari said the decision would never have been made against a Roma player but it wasn't the only act of madness. "Crazy," Scolari said of his team's display and their defending. "We didn't play very well. We made mistakes in critical times and they [Roma] killed us. Today we lost the ball and gave them chances to score. In other games we haven't made those mistakes. I'm not going to change everything about what I think after one game." As for qualification, Scolari added: "For the group, it's open. For all. We have seven points, but if you're thinking about the points, if we win one game, we are there. We need three points."
Chelsea still top Group A and still head the Premier League but it was the manner of the defeat, their heaviest in almost three years, which shocked so many, including, clearly, Scolari. Once behind, Chelsea folded in an alarming way that has not been witnessed before. They were pale, anonymous, naive at times. Beating Sunderland out of sight, and Hull City, is one thing, losing to Liverpool and, more so, Roma quite another.
The final is here, in this city, next May. It felt a distant prospect on last night's performance and for all the aesthetic pleasure and fun that Scolari has brought, for all the joyful football , he needs to also rediscover that mechanical edge.
He cut a frustrated figure. In the first half he urged more from his team – it all appeared a breeze against a Roma side shell-shocked by five consecutive defeats and their worst start to a season for 45 years – while in the second he stood motionless.
His substitutions did not work while the paucity of Nicolas Anelka's performance, and the lack of impact made by Didier Drogba, only highlighted further Chelsea's need for a new striker. A day after lauding the solidity of his defence, Scolari watched in horror as they gifted goals and John Obi Mikel had the kind of horrific evening that scars. At the end the Chelsea players trooped off quickly – apart from John Terry, who stood staring at the turf on the final whistle, his face frozen in frustration.
But how did it come to this? For half an hour it had been so, so easy. The only bang from Roma came from the cannon-like crackers that were tossed from the Curva Sud, the one bank of this cavernous arena that was just about full. A couple of long-range efforts whistled wide from Deco and Frank Lampard – forcing saves from Doni – and a goal seemed an inevitability if Chelsea simply raised the tempo a notch more.
They did not. Scolari detected the danger signs and suddenly appeared a more agitated presence. His body language spoke of exasperation and that exploded when Mikel miscontrolled, and allowed the ball to run to Francesco Totti who was then up-ended by Deco who earned his first yellow card. From the free-kick, Wayne Bridge neglected to cover Cicinho and he crossed low. The errors mounted as Alex and Terry stood rooted, allowing Christian Panucci, a former Chelsea player, to slip through and side-foot home.
It was a poor goal to concede and even poorer given how tamely Roma had performed up until then. It was also the first goal surrendered by Chelsea in this competition this season. Scolari had hailed his defence. Now it had let him down. The goal meant one more thing. Roma's confidence returned.
Scolari had seen enough. Off came both wide players – on came Drogba, as one of the replacements. However, just three minutes after the re-start, Roma struck again. And this time Cech appeared to be at fault as Matteo Brighi teed up Mirko Vucinic whose shot was fierce but perhaps should have been covered by the goalkeeper. Instead it rippled the net from 25 yards. Once more Mikel dangerously surrendered possession – this time to Vucinic who ran on the midfielder's despairing lunge and then prodded a shot past Cech to cause mayhem, with Luciano Spalletti, the Roma coach who has been under so much pressure, throwing himself on top of a huddle of players piled on the turf.
Everyone was stunned. And then there was a lifeline as Terry deflected Deco's shot, Doni parried but, with Roma appealing for offside, the rebound fell to the Chelsea captain who bundled it in. Chelsea pushed on but there was no real hope while Cech had to throw himself to deny Vucinic a hat-trick. Was Terry injured at the end, Scolari was asked? "He's angry, nothing more," came the reply. He wasn't the only one.
AS Roma (4-4-2): Doni; Cicinho, Mexes, Juan, Panucci; Perrotta (Taddei, 72), De Rossi, Pizarro, Brighi; Vucinic (Riise, 88), Totti (Baptista, 61). Substitutes not used: Artur (gk), Loria, Tonetto, Menez.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Kalou, 63), Alex, Terry, Bridge; Mikel; J Cole (Belletti, 46), Deco, Lampard, Malouda (Drogba, 46); Anelka. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ivanovic, Di Santo, Ferreira.
Referee: L Medina Cantalejo (Spain).
Results: Chelsea 4 Bordeaux 0; Roma 1 CFR Cluj 2; CFR Cluj 0 Chelsea 0; Bordeaux 1 Roma 3; Bordeaux 1 CFR Cluj 0; Chelsea 1 Roma 0; Roma 3 Chelsea 1; CFR Cluj 1 Bordeaux 2
Chelsea's remaining group stage fixtures: 26 Nov: Bordeaux (a); 9 Dec: CFR Cluj-Napoca (h).
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