Drogba strikes but limp Chelsea fail to convince

Chelsea 1 Juventus

Sam Wallace,Football Correspondent
Thursday 26 February 2009 01:00 GMT

When it falls to Didier Drogba to make the difference for Chelsea in the Champions League, you can tell that not much has changed in Guus Hiddink's brave new world at Stamford Bridge. Still Chelsea await their transformation at the hands of their Dutch coach and, in the meantime, the job of winning the big matches falls to the moody striker with the suspect attitude.

Drogba scored the first-half goal last night that meant Chelsea go to Turin for the second leg on 10 March with an advantage, although it was far more slender than the one they might have hoped for having dominated the beginning of the game. While, in years past, Chelsea might have been expected to flatten a vulnerable opponent, now they seem to drift aimlessly for long periods unable to focus on what once made them such an implacable opponent in Europe.

At the end of the match, as he walked across the pitch in an empty stadium, Roman Abramovich's entourage was swelled by two new celebrity friends: Bono and the Edge off-duty from U2 and finally hanging out with someone who has more money than them. Abramovich might have acquired a new manager but as far as a Chelsea team that might win the Champions League, the Russian – as Bono himself would no doubt say – still hasn't found what he is looking for.

In the first 15 minutes Chelsea threatened to do some serious damage to the reputation of a once-great European club. Juventus, with their mixture of Premier League rejects and golden-oldies, should have been easy pickings for a Chelsea team that once thrived on muscular performances at home and a relentless bombardment of their opposition. Yet by the end of the game Chelsea were hanging on and the best player on the pitch was a 36-year-old – that's older than Ryan Giggs.

Pavel Nedved was the driving force in getting Juventus to the 2003 Champions League final although he had to sit out the game itself, a match played at Old Trafford at which – according to the official Abramovich history – the Russian oligarch fell in love with football. In 2003, Nedved, then the European footballer of the year, was exactly the kind of player Abramovich would have tried to buy. After last night he might try again.

Having established their lead early on Chelsea could not build on it. In midfield the pairing of Tiago Mendes and Momo Sissoko – never more than short-term solutions when they played at Chelsea and Liverpool – held their own against Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard. Nicolas Anelka found himself switched from the left to the right. Whatever winning formula Hiddink is edging towards it will have to be better than this.

Considering Abramovich has invested £679.6m in Chelsea over six years he should have a squad much stronger than that of Juventus who, during the chaos of their Moggi-gate scandal demotion to Serie B, have barely been able to renew their ageing players. The likes of Alessandro Del Piero (34 years old), Mauro Camoranesi (32), Nedved (36) and Nicola Legrottaglie (32) are still integral. At 31, Olof Mellberg and Gianluigi Buffon are relative youngsters. Yet Juventus gave Chelsea a run for their money.

Claudio Ranieri was given a much warmer reception when he was introduced to the Chelsea crowd than Hiddink and the Italian manager will take some credit for his team's second half performance. Juventus were better organised than the Chelsea side he managed in his last Champions League game at this club in that infamous semi-final against Monaco.

Drogba had already headed one chance wide when he scored on 12 minutes. His goal, only his fourth this season, was beautifully worked by Salomon Kalou. Ballack won the ball out on the right and Kalou, 30 yards from goal, played an instinctive ball through the Juventus' back four. It was an ideal pass for Lampard or Drogba and the England man, in a rare show of generosity in front of goal, allowed Drogba to take it on and score.

From that point on it looked like it should be simple for Chelsea but they could not keep up the fluency of their game. While Manchester United continued attacking Internazionale right up until the final whistle on Tuesday, never allowing the opposition off the hook, Chelsea failed to get a grip. John Obi Mikel allowed Del Piero to run off him and force a save out of Petr Cech. Camoranesi missed a chance at the back post. As Ballack, Kalou and Anelka drifted out of the game in the second half it was hard not to return to Luiz Felipe Scolari's theory that Chelsea desperately lack someone exciting. A player, like Arjen Robben and Damien Duff, who were once capable of injecting something unpredictable and magical into a game. Kalou was the only recognised winger in the first XI and when Florent Malouda came on he seemed unwilling to take on the full-back which rather defeats the object for a man in his position.

Seizing the reprieve, Juventus came back into the game. Cech flapped after a cross that he could not grasp just before the hour. Ballack committed a dreadful foul, catching Nedved around the knees, and in the last 15 minutes it was Juventus who pressed forward, the striker Amauri looking dangerous for the first time. The last action was a shot from Nedved that flew just inches wide of the post. As Hiddink is doubtless aware, the Chelsea conundrum will take more than re-arranging the existing personnel on the pitch. This is the weakest team with which they have tried to win this competition in the last four years and it would be remarkable if they were to be successful this season. Before that they have to get past Juventus.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Lampard, Mikel, Ballack (Mancienne, 81); Kalou (Malouda, 72), Drogba, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Ferreira, Di Santo, Stoch.

Juventus (4-4-2): Buffon; Mellberg, Chiellini, Legrottaglie, Molinaro; Camoranesi (Marchionni, 51), Sissoko (Trezeguet, 86), Tiago (Marchisio, 62), Nedved; Del Piero, Amauri. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Grygera, Poulsen, Iaquinta.

Referee: O Benquerenca (Portugal).


Didier Drogba's opening goal last night was his first for Chelsea in his last 10 matches.

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