Ranieri's men put trust in a Bridge revival

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The Independent Online

Given the improbable comebacks achieved in the quarter-finals of this season's Champions' League Chelsea clearly have reason to believe they can overturn the 3-1 advantage Monaco gained in Tuesday's semi-final first-leg. It will, though, take an improvement of immeasurably greater discipline than the one they produced in Monte Carlo.

Given the improbable comebacks achieved in the quarter-finals of this season's Champions' League Chelsea clearly have reason to believe they can overturn the 3-1 advantage Monaco gained in Tuesday's semi-final first-leg. It will, though, take an improvement of immeasurably greater discipline than the one they produced in Monte Carlo.

Claudio Ranieri, showing more insight after the match than during it, recognised as much when he said: "It will be very difficult now as Monaco will be able to sit deep at Stamford Bridge and counter-attack, just like they did when they were down to 10 men at home."

Marcel Desailly, another to regain his senses when the final whistle went, delivered a cogent analysis of how Chelsea had lost their way. "We were in a good situation but when we played against 10 men we lost control of the game. Because there had been an exclusion we said: 'Oh, it is finished for them. We can relax. We can play easier.' But they played as a team."

Unlike Chelsea, noted Eidur Gudjohnsen. "We slacked off in the second half and lost our shape," he said. "It was unacceptable. We were working as individuals not a team."

Ranieri did not help, his tactics reprising the doubts which convinced Chelsea's powerbrokers to search for a replacement.

The Italian has managed for many years in Italy, Spain and England but never at this stage of a European competition and his gung-ho response to the dismissal of Andreas Zikos was surprisingly naïve and ill-judged.

The decision to send on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, so giving the team three central strikers but no wide players, Damien Duff being absent and Jesper Gronkjaer already substituted, was reminiscent of Louis van Gaal's mad half-hour in Dublin when the Dutch blew qualification for World Cup 2002.

Then Hasselbaink and Pierre van Hooijdonk were sent on, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert to make a front quartet of four centre-forwards, while wingers Boudwijn Zenden and Marc Overmars were brought off. The Dutch failed to score.

Arsène Wenger did something similar in the FA Cup semi-final, taking off Robert Pires and Edu, bringing on Thierry Henry, Jose Antonio Reyes and Kanu. Arsenal failed to score.

In the mind-rending heat of battle it did not seem to occur to any of these experienced football men that simply adding more forwards to the mix does not guarantee goals will be scored. Someone has to create the chances first.

He did introduce Juan Sebastian Veron, but the Argentine still lacks match sharpness after his long lay-off. Joe Cole may have been a better bet but his season seems increasingly to be an exercise in frustration. If Chelsea are to open up a Monaco team which can be expected to defend in depth in the 5 May second leg one of these two enigmas will finally have to live up to their advance billing.

Duff should be back by then but Ranieri may have to do without William Gallas. Given the lack of pace in Chelsea's defence without him, a failing ruthlessly exposed on Tuesday, this is a concern. If Gallas is not fit, and Uefa tomorrow suspend Desailly following his elbow on Fernando Morientes, Ranieri will have to partner John Terry with either Robert Huth or Mario Melchiot.

Terry will go into the tie knowing another booking would rule him out of the final, if Chelsea get there, through suspension. He insisted: "It would be a shame to miss the final but if there is a tackle to be made I am going to go in there and win it."

Terry added: "We are not out of it, not by a long way. Everyone is devastated but it is only half-time. When we get them back to Stamford Bridge, with our fans behind us, anything is possible."

It could indeed be a dramatic night. As Cole said: "If we get an early goal ..."

Yet there is an ominous echo of the last time a London club reached the European Cup semi-finals. In April 1962 Tottenham, fielding Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay and Jimmy Greaves, lost the first-leg to Benfica 3-1 in Lisbon. Unlike Chelsea the refereeing performance was against them, two goals being disallowed, and they were more justifiably optimistic about the second leg. But with Greaves having another goal disallowed, and Mackay hitting the bar, they won a titanic match just 2-1 and lost the tie. Benfica, with a youthful Eusebio, beat Real Madrid in the final.

The one consolation for Chelsea was that their supporters, even the seriously drunk ones, generally behaved well. This type of fixture, in a small town, with a ground hemmed in by residential streets, on a hot day with plenty of alcohol available, would have been described as high-risk not too long ago. The police were present in force but there was no sense of menace, Chelsea's supporters behaving as have most those of other English club sides in Europe this year.

Uefa's dire threats have had an impact. Having come so close to the final Chelsea fans were unlikely to risk the team's expulsion. So have improved police intelligence and the threat and execution of banning orders. There are still violent football hooligans but maybe some of the more suggestible followers have grown up. The true test will come in Portugal this summer but the signs are promising.

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