James Lawton: Barcelona should beware provoking Didier Drogba's final fling

Tonight we will get to see how well Chelsea's restored certainties can be preserved

A lot has happened since the events of the night of 6 May 2009 at Stamford Bridge and Dani Alves of Barcelona can rearrange them as profoundly as he likes.

But then he might be wise not to press too hard his edited version on Didier Drogba, especially, before tonight's return to the battle lines of arguably the most distorted semi-final in the history of the Champions League.

The claim of Alves that it was fear and not relentless referee error by a hapless Norwegian named Tom Henning Ovrebo which denied Chelsea the chance of a final re-match with Manchester United in Rome landed this week not so much as historical revision as outrageous provocation.

It is an old scab, and the danger of picking it may have declined along with Chelsea – and the graduation of Barça to what many believe is an ultimate level of the game – but for Drogba, whether he starts at the heart of the action or smoulders on the bench for a while, and his old guard team-mates it is hard to imagine anything quite so guaranteed to stimulate some of the last of their ambition.

 

When Andres Iniesta scored three minutes into added time – and took his team through on away goals – the rage of the big man from the Ivory Coast was so strong it seemed possible that it would never die. Maybe it is true that three years on the 34-year-old finds it that much harder to channel his deepest emotion into decisive physical action. However, Barça, despite all their legitimate pomp, should perhaps not take this entirely for granted.

This is particularly so if they linger for more than a moment or two over the more dramatic of recent strikes from a still formidable armoury.

His running header in the second- leg defeat of Napoli had the authority of a bolt of lightning. So did the goal that ambushed the composure of Spurs at Wembley last Sunday. If this is the last of Drogba, it is surely more than a faint echo of the past. Certainly it makes his involvement tonight, at least at some point, more dangerous to Barça than even the most optimistic progress report on Fernando Torres.

Indeed, the late possibilities of Drogba and Frank Lampard and John Terry under the old pro stewardship of Roberto di Matteo provide more than enough incentive to reflect on some extraordinary years of achievement, a body of work which came so close to fulfilment in spite of the unwitting sabotage of owner Roman Abramovich.

Not the least extraordinary fact of Chelsea's pursuit of the Champions League is that in the last five years they have reached the semi-finals three times and the final once – and on each occasion while in the hands of a temporary manager.

Avram Grant's brief, bizarre control of the team made by Jose Mourinho reached its apex in Moscow in 2008 against United after the taut semi-final victory over Liverpool. Guus Hiddink felt much of the angst of Drogba, without displaying a fraction of it, after the outrage perpetrated by Ovrebo.

Now Di Matteo goes against Barcelona with a team which has not so much been revived but re-introduced to some of the fundamental driving forces of the professional game, the most significant including a degree of trust between coach and players and some basic consistency in tactics.

For a little while there was a game of distributing blame at Stamford Bridge. The old guard brought out the knives, it was said. Andres Villas-Boas floundered on the precipice of his own inexperience. But however you cut it, here was a dysfunctional football club, one buffeted by one too many departures from the classic values of professional organisation and motivation.

How has Di Matteo done it? Mostly by understanding the psychology of professional football players, knowing how it is when they move towards and beyond the limits of their old power. Villas-Boas never tired of announcing that he was the head of a project, one of building new foundations, creating renewal.

In fact he was lost and the job he handed over to Di Matteo was relatively simple. It was one which all football managers, however generous their resources, have to tackle at some point in their careers. It is called making the best of what you have.

In Di Matteo's case what he has might not carry him too far into an uncharted future but, as we have seen from time to time since the start of what seemed like a hopeless assignment, it is not without an impressive remnant or two.

Under Mourinho, Chelsea were not a beautiful team but they knew, precisely, what they were doing. In recent weeks there has been a return of some of those certainties and tonight, no doubt, we will get to see how well they can be preserved against the best football team on earth.

What can be assumed safely enough is that whatever the years have brought to Didier Drogba it does not include fear.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas