Drogba blow deepens injury problems confronting Scolari
CFR Cluj 0 Chelsea 0
Wednesday 01 October 2008
No goals, and too irresistible not to say that both teams failed to draw blood in Transylvania (apologies for that), but a worrying injury for Chelsea to Didier Drogba as they collected a hard-fought, nervy point towards qualification to the next stage of the Champions League.
The striker crumpled under a legitimate challenge early in the second half, holding his back and lower leg, and was carried off with suspected medial ligament damage and a possible broken ankle. Given Chelsea's roll call of absentees – a genuine injury crisis – it's a challenging time for manager Luiz Felipe Scolari and a shattering blow to Drogba.
Scolari faced a stern challenge too last night, just as he had predicted, with the Romanian champions showing resolve and skill and an appetite to cause another upset. Chelsea weren't exactly clueless in Cluj but they were non-plussed at times and, in being so, failed to score for the first time this season. In a land of mystery, they certainly didn't have all the answers in Group A even if they still sit at its summit.
Chelsea had been all but deified since their arrival. Every move scrutinised; every link explored; locals pinching themselves at their presence, hoping their team wasn't about to be humbled – although they seemed happier talking about Frank Lampard's friendship with Ilie Dumitrescu and Dan Petrescu's career rather than the more recent association with Adrian Mutu.
Cluj, bankrolled by a local magnate who made his money in the used car market, have an impressive budget by Eastern European standards and have used that cash to build links around the world. Six different nationalities in their starting line-up – and just three Romanians – showed the imagination which has been used while, at the same time, the tight three-sided stadium that is their home has been rebuilt.
An hour before kick-off and it was all but full. Minutes before the match started and a rumble swept around the ground, as the supporters stamped their feet in unison. It sounded like the noise of a train passing by, all the more appropriate given the club developed out of its railways links, with a train coming through a tunnel the main element on the crest. It was how Cluj hoped to start. Rightly, Chelsea weren't having it. They attempted to slow the tempo, draw the sting, but there was an early threat as Yssouf Kone barrelled his way past John Terry. The powerful Burkino Faso striker, who was at Rosenborg last season when the Norwegians shocked Chelsea with a draw at Stamford Bridge, in Jose Mourinho's last game in charge, shot over when he could have gone on before Eugen Trica also lobbed an effort wide.
Chelsea had suffered a late set-back with left-back Ashley Cole withdrawn suffering from lower back pain. A precaution but, with Deco, Joe Cole, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien already out injured, a concern also. Still Drogba, free of suspension after his foolish slap at Nemanja Vidic in last season's final, was available and an early contribution came with a neat turn but then a shot which sailed over.
Chelsea held possession, Cluj countered on the break, deliberately suckering them in. From one thrust Sebastian Dubarbier lifted the ball to Trica inside the area who had to take the volley early and did so, but sliced it wide. Only Jose Bosingwa's alertness halted the impressive Alvaro Perreira, who later drove a low shot across Petr Cech and narrowly past a post, as he worked his way through.
Having attempted to slow that tempo, Chelsea were now appearing off the pace. Passes went astray. Michael Ballack and John Obi Mikel were culprits and, twice, their errors were only redeemed by the offside flag. But it was for Cluj that the free-kick count was adding up. That head of steam was coming. Scolari had seen enough and reshaped things with Nicolas Anelka replacing the ineffective, timid Salomon Kalou. Chelsea needed to re-take the initiative even if a draw would not have been an unhealthy result. But with Kone continuing to unsettle Terry, it was Cluj who had an opportunity and Gabriel Muresan attempted to catch out Cech with a quick, driven free-kick. The goalkeeper held on. But Anelka was making a difference. Sharp and direct he crossed for Lampard who would have scored but for Cadu's block before a Drogba header drifted wide. Soon after he attempted to reach Florent Malouda's centre, was beaten to it by De Sousa, but was injured and had to depart. It looked worrying. Cluj began to tire. They retreated to the edge of the area as Chelsea piled on the pressure and, with his first touch, Franco Di Santo headed fractionally wide while, at the other end, Cech had to react quickly to deny Kone before Trica tricked his way into space for another shot that whistled close to goal. It became increasingly tense and a clever, instant lob forward by Lampard found Juliano Belletti whose first-touch was fine but he then drove over. Nerves jangled and Pereira again burst through only for Cech to palm away his shot and preserve parity.
CFR Cluj (4-2-3-1): Stancioiu; Tony, Cadu, De Sousa, Pereira; Dani, Muresan; Dubarbier, Trica (Didi 88), Culio; Y Kone. Substitutes not used: Claro (gk), Panin, Alcantara, Deac, E Kone, Ruiz.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Bridge; Mikel; Kalou (Anelka h-t), Ballack, Lampard, Malouda (Di Santo 74); Drogba (Belletti 57). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Ferreira, Stoch.
Referee: F Meyer (Germany).
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