Olympiakos 0 Chelsea 0: Rejigged Chelsea stutter to stalemate
Wednesday 20 February 2008
After the white-out, a white-hot atmosphere – but a match devoid of real drama except for the intriguing omission of John Terry and Frank Lampard from the starting line-up. Maybe a drab affair is the way Chelsea will have liked it after the confusion of getting here. The goalless draw gives them a clear advantage for the return leg as they attempt to reach the last eight of the European Cup and their ultimate destination: Moscow in May and the final.
They had arrived in Athens in a fierce snowstorm which prevented many of their fans from making it to the game and, although the snows melted, the football stayed frozen. Some of those supporters had taken up offers from airlines which had cancelled flights to head somewhere else. It proved a wise choice. There were flares in the stands but not much flair on the pitch.
There may be more storms brewing. The biggest moment came pre-match when Avram Grant confirmed the omission of his captain and vice-captain. With the business end of the season just beginning it was some executive decision from the Chelsea manager. They will not be happy about not playing and, now, the selection for Sunday's League Cup final becomes all the more fascinating. If either does not play then, it could signal a seismic shift at the club.
Certainly, Grant's predecessor, Jose Mourinho, would not have countenanced such a thing for his two "untouchables". When they were fit, they played. Admittedly, only Terry's remarkable powers of recovery, after breaking three bones in his foot, got him this far so soon while Lampard has played twice since overcoming a thigh injury.
Not that the manager wanted to discuss it afterwards. "I prefer to talk about the players who did play," he said before adding: "The result was OK. We didn't create a lot of chances which was disappointing but it's not easy to play here and it's not easy to play against them. We are a team who always likes to win so we are not 100 per cent happy and this was a game in which we played less well than in the others."
It was only when Lampard and Nicolas Anelka – another left out, although less surprisingly – came on towards the end that Chelsea pushed. Even then it was a third substitute, Salomon Kalou, who had the opportunity but allowed the ball to run away from him after he stole in behind the defence.
Neither were Chelsea happy with the Austrian referee, Konrad Plautz, who, Grant said, "was hard with us", dishing out four yellow cards.
Not that Olympiakos cared. The red and whites have been Greek champions for 10 of the past 11 seasons but have not made much of an impression in this competition for some years. Qualification to face Chelsea, however, was impressively earned and was not going to be easily surrendered, although when Leroklis Stoltidis was given an early sight of goal he elected to pass instead of shoot and the opportunity was gone.
The home crowd's passionate support for their team was relentless. It was some sight and sound when, from a corner, Stoltidis headed across goal, and Vassilis Torosidis somehow failed to nod home.
Chelsea lacked cohesion. Generally, they were pre-occupied with striking the ball long to Didier Drogba, who appeared lethargic. Olympiakos, meanwhile, engineered chances through their playmaker and captain Predrag Djordjevic and Chelsea were indebted to the defensive resilience of Ricardo Carvalho – and the wastefulness of Luciano Galletti. The Argentine failed to reach a cross, when offered the chance of a header, and then volleyed another deep cross, fizzing the ball over, when he had time.
Olympiakos were cuter when Galletti teed up Djordjevic but Petr Cech blocked his shot. The introduction of Anelka did not bring a change of formation. Instead he occupied the left. He ran in for one side-foot shot but it was weak, just like a cross from Kalou, with team-mates queuing, moments later. And just like the rest of the match. The main action was going on off the pitch.
Olympiakos (4-3-2-1): Nikopolidis; Zewlakow, Julio Cesar, Antzas, Pantos; Ledesma, Torosidis, Stoltidis; Galletti (Leonardo, 83), Djordjevic (Bellushi, 76); Kovacevic (Nunez, 87). Substitutes not used: Sifakis (gk), Patsatzoglou, Leonardo, Mitroglou, Sisic.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, A Cole; Essien, Makelele, Ballack (Lampard, 86); J Cole (Anelka, 75), Drogba, Malouda (Kalou, 75). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Mikel, Wright-Phillips, Terry.
Referee: K Plautz (Austria).
* David Pizarro and Mancini scored as Roma came from behind to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the first leg of their Champions League tie at the Stadio Olimpico last night. Real went ahead in the eighth minute when Raul diverted a Guti shot into the net. The Chilean midfielder Pizarro drilled Roma level midway through the first half and Mancini scored the winner in the 58th minute after being played in by Francesco Totti. In last night's other first leg tie in Germany, Schalke beat the Portuguese side Porto 1-0 thanks to a fourth-minute goal from Kevin Kuranyi.
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