Drogba and group therapy lift the Chelsea depression
Chelsea 2 CFR Cluj 1
Wednesday 10 December 2008
Grumpy, rebellious, even irresponsible for getting himself sent off in that Champions League final in May, but once a goalscorer, always a goalscorer. Didier Drogba emerged from the longest sulk in history last night to score the winner for Chelsea which is just about the quickest way to earn forgiveness for all the sins of the modern-day footballer.
Not that it was all plain sailing for Chelsea, especially when the team from Transylvania, ahem, drew blood on 55 minutes with an equaliser which necessitated substitute Drogba's winner. His goal was the first he has scored in the Champions League since his two against Liverpool in the semi-final second leg in April and prompted a wistful "it's good to have you back" from the stadium announcer. He might be back, but for just how long?
The winner, after Salomon Kalou had initially given Chelsea the lead, was vintage Drogba. Given just the slightest sight of goal after a beautifully worked move the striker pounced. It was a glimpse of what Chelsea might be with a truly in-form centre-forward capable of taking advantage of all that power and experience in the team. Drogba must now be a candidate to start on Sunday against West Ham, which will be his first since 27 September. The striker is much more than just "an option" as Scolari describes him.
In the end Chelsea's result was academic as Bordeaux were defeated in Roma leaving the Italians top of Group A. Also defeated last night were Jose Mourinho's Internazionale which means they cannot face Chelsea when draw is made a week on Friday. Scolari could, however, find himself up against Panathinaikos or Barcelona, the form team of Europe who would flatten Chelsea on the basis of this performance.
As John Terry later pointed out, this is not Chelsea at their intimidating, single-minded best. They found themselves unsettled by Cluj's resilient little band of Africans, South Americans, Portuguese (and the occasional Romanian) who were anxious to make an impression. Alex also proved that it is not just Transylvania's most famous son who is uneasy around crosses when his misjudgment let Yssouf Kone in for the equalising goal.
To give Scolari his due, he did change the formation of his team at the start of the second half, pushing Kalou into attack alongside Nicolas Anelka and giving 4-4-2 a chance instead. This, perhaps, is the elusive Plan B which Chelsea have been searching for in recent weeks although no one seemed to fancy playing out on the left side of midfield which was the flank from which Cluj's equaliser originated.
In the end, it was the quality of many of Chelsea's players which told. John Obi Mikel was excellent, although the indifferent spell which Deco is experiencing is cause for alarm. They missed the suspended Frank Lampard in midfield, where Michael Ballack and Deco seemed only to drift in and out of the game. In the early stages, the lively Juan Culio, an Argentine who has pitched up in Romania's third biggest city, looked like he might even precipitate an upset.
This trip to London evidently offered much more to Cluj than swapping shirts with a famous Chelsea player or having a team photograph in front of Buckingham Palace. They had come to prove they were more than just cannon-fodder and came close to scoring in the 17th minute. Culio's cross was headed down by Hugo Alcantara and Mikel only just managed to nick the ball away in time from the Portuguese defender Cadu.
At least Cluj had resisted the temptation to put 10 men behind the ball but, ultimately, they paid the price for it. Alex and Joe Cole had missed chances when Deco's free-kick on 40 minutes looked to be falling to John Terry who was fouled by Gabriel Muresan. The Chelsea captain had barely had a chance to appeal for the penalty when the ball dropped at Kalou's feet and he had time for a touch before sweeping it in.
There were only three Romanians in the Cluj first XI, the same amount of Englishmen as there were in Chelsea's team and they came back well. After Anelka missed a chance to put Chelsea two goals ahead, the ball was worked to Cristian Panin who crossed to the far post, over the head of the out-of-position Alex, and right into the path of Kone. He picked the corner of Petr Cech's goal for the equaliser.
There was tension in Stamford Bridge, where the fans seemed oblivious to the fact that Bordeaux were losing to Roma. Scolari was experiencing one of those lonely moments on the touchline that has been the fate of his predecessors at this club and he sent Drogba to warm-up. In the meantime, Joe Cole had a shot from point blank range saved.
The day was saved by Drogba's winning goal, a brilliantly executed move that began with Mikel. He surged forward in midfield and chipped the ball to Joe Cole who in turn waited for Drogba to move ahead of his marker before dropping the ball into his path.
The Chelsea striker took one touch to kill it and then another, very quickly, to toe it past the goalkeeper Claro. It is what Drogba does best, although much too rarely of late.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Mikel (Bridge, 88); J Cole (Belletti, 74), Ballack, Deco, Kalou (Drogba, 65); Anelka. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ivanovic, Ferreira, Stoch.
cfr Cluj (4-2-3-1): Claro; Panin, Alcantara, Cadu, Pereira; Muresan, Dani; Dubarbier (E Kone, 60), Trica (Peralta, 72), Culio; Y Kone. Substitutes not used: Hirschfeld (gk), Prette, Deac, De Sousa, Ruiz.
Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).
Chelsea results: Chelsea 4 Bordeaux 0; CFR Cluj 0 Chelsea 0; Chelsea 1 Roma 0; Roma 3 Chelsea 1; Bordeaux 1 Chelsea 1; Chelsea 2 CFR Cluj 1.
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