Drogba fails to outwit his mentor
Chelsea striker was once Jose Mourinho's main man but he drew a blank last night
Thursday 25 February 2010
It was the Champions League that did for Jose Mourinho as manager of Chelsea and he does not intend the competition to be the instrument of his downfall in Milan. Winning the domestic league, as
Internazionale seem certain to do again in Mourinho's second season, is soon taken for granted, just as it was at Stamford Bridge. Roman Abramovich wanted more than that and as soon as a poor 1-1 draw at home to Rosenborg of Norway in September 2007, watched by fewer than 25,000, followed a goalless draw at home to Blackburn, the owner made his feelings known as the two men passed in a corridor. Mourinho, not a biter of tongues, answered back and little more than 24 hours later he was gone.
Among his most emotional farewells was the embrace with Didier Drogba: "I couldn't speak and Didier could only say 'this is not possible'." He had come to value the Ivorian since their paths first crossed, Drogba scoring for Marseilles against Mourinho's Porto on a night when they virtually agreed a pact to join forces one day.
Little more than six months later, they were together. Drogba scored 65 goals in their three seasons but such is the nature of football that last night they were trying to cut each others' throats. The striker, as so often, was up for the big occasion. If less effective in the second half, he had been for a long time the most likely medium for reprisals following the shock of that early home goal.
Hit painfully in the opening 45 seconds by the daunting power of Lucio, without being granted a free-kick, he might on another occasion have sulked, become drawn into a feud or retreated into a shell. Instead he led from the front, relishing the physicality of the battle. There was a thunderous free-kick against the bar, dipping and swerving, from almost 35 yards; a good turn on to a long throw from Branislav Ivanovic, the Rory Delap of Stamford Bridge, for a shot that flew wide, as did a volley from John Obi Mikel's pass. Those clever diagrams showing which part of the pitch players touch the ball in would have had little spots all over; one moment he was heading away a cross in his own penalty area, then hitting two dangerous ones into Inter's.
As ever in this situation, there was a balance to be struck between chasing an away goal and not conceding again. The enforced inclusion of a winger, Florent Malouda, as fourth- or fifth-choice left-back offered hope of achieving the former and concern about suffering the latter. Keen to push forward towards his normal position, Malouda showed no great inclination to retreat, once losing Maicon altogether as the Brazilian charged towards goal. So it was an irony that Chelsea's equaliser stemmed from a similar burst by the other, more regular full-back, Ivanovic.
Salomon Kalou, who at the weekend was talking so gratefully of Mourinho's influence on him, was thrilled to strike the goal after being denied an obvious penalty. He would doubtless have admired the Inter coach's intervention in sending on Mario Balotelli to help Maicon exploit Malouda's inexperience and go for the kill after Esteban Cambiasso's hit.
Drogba was heavily involved in Chelsea's best move of the game, ending with Frank Lampard, another of Mourinho's old favourites, almost pulling his side level again. Meanwhile, Malouda held on gamely, and Chelsea held out for a not unsatisfactory result. It will be an unprecedently long wait until the second leg in three weeks' time – surely not long enough for the unfortunate Petr Cech – but the appetite has only been sharpened by a dramatic night.
Gonzalez strikes to rescue CSKA
Mark Gonzalez struck a magnificent equaliser to salvage a draw for CSKA Moscow in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Seville in the Russian capital last night.
Gonzalez, who joined CSKA last summer from Seville's local rivals Real Betis, smashed home an unstoppable 35-yard drive in the 66th minute to cancel out Alvaro Negredo's first-half opener for the La Liga club.
The draw represented a fair result in freezing conditions in Russia, where CSKA enjoyed the majority of the few chances that either side managed to create, but were rarely able to test the visiting goalkeeper Andres Palop.
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