Werder Bremen 1 Chelsea 0: Drogba in race to be fit for United clash
Thursday 23 November 2006
In Germany Bremen is known for its premium brands - Becks beer, Mercedes cars - but the would-be gold marque of European football, and the favourites to win the Champions' League, had a little of their gloss rubbed off last night.
Chelsea were in the north-western city but were humbled by a vibrant Werder Bremen team. They also had injury to add to that insult with their striker, top scorer and talisman, Didier Drogba, hobbling along the perimeter and down the tunnel just before the hour with damage to his ankle that could rule him out of Sunday's momentous Premiership meeting with Manchester United.
Drogba is the last player that the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, would want to lose but he may not be the only player he does lose for this weekend's encounter. Michael Ballack, on his return to Germany, an event that was met with a less than universal approval from the home fans, was also withdrawn suffering from a cut to his calf. Yet Mourinho was optimistic about their prospects.
"It's nothing serious," he claimed. Both players, he said, should be fit to face United, although he criticised Ballack for his poor performance last night and failure to pick up the challenge with Frank Lampard suspended.
It amounted to a bitter night and, as ever, Mourinho met it with bitterness of his own, berating the referee and linesman for their part in Bremen's goal. Even so the scoreline, and the head-to-head results in Group A, meant that Chelsea lost their first game away from home in this competition for 13 months and still progressed to the knockout stages. "We qualify," Mourinho said. "If we lose two or three-zero we would still have needed something from the last game. It's a defeat and I'm never happy with defeat but it leaves us in the second stage of the competition."
Conspiracy theorists had suggested that Mourinho may indeed have welcomed defeat as part of some fiendish masterplan to eliminate arch rivals Barcelona who now host Bremen. But such tosh did not bear examination in the face of his foot-tapping, hands-thrust-in-pockets touchline frustration and the frantic commitment to attack from his players in the latter stages of this match. At the end, John Terry was an auxiliary forward, waving his team-mates on, launching himself at every cross. By then, Chelsea were also looking pretty ragged.
As ever Mourinho had his own conspiracy theory and used it to analyse the only goal midway through the first half that sprung from a free-kick, for an apparent foul on the impressive midfielder Torsten Frings. That eventually earned a corner that was met with a thumping, unmarked header by the central defender Per Mertesacker who easily beat Carlo Cudicini. "The free-kick is a funny situation," Mourinho said. But he was not laughing. "Frings? I don't know what he did. It looked like someone pushed him but nobody did. But that's life especially my life over the few years in this competition. Since I won it I have not had luck with decisions." His post-Porto claim was pretty ludicrous especially as what was clearly more questionable than the performance of Lubos Michel - the referee when Chelsea lost at Anfield in the semi-finals last year - were Mourinho's team selection and tactics.
How can he talk of the height and threat of Bremen's players and then deploy Joe Cole as a central striker in a flat 4-4-2 formation? The England midfielder was, indeed, granted a rare start and worked as tirelessly as ever but it was asking a lot for him to compete with Mertesacker and the equally powerful Naldo for balls flighted forward. Indeed, the 25-year-old often found himself further advanced than Drogba while Andrei Shevchenko and Arjen Robben sat on the bench.
Still despite the control exerted by Bremen, a stream of chances fell to Chelsea. Firstly John Obi Mikel - granted a reprieve after his apology to Mourinho for his poor attitude to training - headed over from inside the six-yard area after reaching Terry's knock-back. Then Cole shot weakly after wriggling free before his wonderful cross with the outside of his right foot was met on the volley by Ballack only for the goalkeeper Tim Wiese to block.
By then Bremen were ahead and they also spurned an opportunity when Diego released Hugo Almeida only for the Portuguese striker to slice his shot while, time and again, Terry had to cover for the nervous deficiencies, and hesitancy, of Khalid Boulahrouz. That lack of control only increased with the departure of Drogba, after running into Clemens Fritz, while Shevchenko wasted a moment to release Robben before the Ukrainian striker forced Wiese into a one-handed save with a low, skimming free-kick.
At the other end and Cudicini, still looking unconvincing after the injury he received at Reading, was forced to punch away before Boulahrouz flung himself in front of Daniel Jensen as the midfielder shaped to shoot after being teed up on the area's edge.
Sensing they were close to a famous victory, Bremen began to retreat. It, as well as their undoubted desire to score, invited Chelsea on. Michael Essien sent a powerful shot narrowly wide before Joe Cole cut in from the right, bought himself some space and fashioned a low, curling shot that, again, was pushed away by Wiese.
Werder Bremen (4-1-2-1-2): Wiese; Fritz, Mertesacker, Naldo, Wome; Frings; Borowski, Diego; Jensen (Hunt, 78); Almeida (Schulz, 87), Klose (Klasnic, 90). Substitutes not used: Reinke (gk), Pasanen, Vranjes, Andreasen.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini; Geremi, Boulahrouz, Terry, A Cole; Essien, Makelele, Ballack (Wright-Phillips, 77), Mikel (Robben, 59); J Cole, Drogba (Shevchenko, 59). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Diarra, Ferreira, Morais.
Referee: L Michel (Switzerland).
Knockout qualifiers so far
Chelsea (Eng), Liverpool (Eng), Celtic (Sco), Valencia (Sp), Real Madrid (Sp), Internazionale (It), Milan (It), Bayern Munich (Ger), Lyon (Fr), PSV Eindhoven (Neth).
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