With goals at a premium at the weekend, the quality of the rearguard stands Chelsea in good stead reckons columnist and club legend Pat Nevin…
It only takes a second to score a goal and it doesn’t matter who scores it in the end. Trying to figure out who to give our last-gasp winner to live on the BBC commentary on Saturday wasn’t an easy task. I eventually plumped for Frank Lampard, but as I say it doesn’t really matter, JT or Lamps – it can’t be an OG by Howard as the ball was on its way in before it was redirected by him. We were all just hugely relieved that justice had been done.
For all the hard work in the second half by the Toffees, Chelsea were the only team likely to score and the sympathy was only for the Everton defenders who had been magnificent throughout. It really is a toss-up in the Premier League to decide who has the best defensive unit, but it is only a toss-up between Everton and Chelsea.
Most matches that are 0-0 after 90 minutes (if not 92!) can be an incredible let down, but there was so much to admire in the work of both backlines. Distin was brilliant, while Coleman, Jagielka and Baines were not far behind.
Even so it would be unfair to suggest that our four were not at least as good or indeed better. Jose waxed Lyrical about Cesar Azpilicueta who had yet another faultless display, JT was the reason why we won in the end and Branislav Ivanovic stopped Everton marauding down that side of the pitch, usually their most lethal weapon, with Baines and Pienaar’s attacking skills denied for almost the entire second 45 minutes.
Having said all that I think Gary Cahill looked the best of the bunch on the day. There was only one word for him and it was imperious. His tackling and use of the ball was superb but it was his reading of the play that marked him out for me as just topping the bill against very stiff opposition.
This ability to snuff out teams going forward is of course classic Jose Mourinho and it is without doubt one of the most important things to instil in a team if they are going to have any pretensions of going into the final stages of the Champions League. The 1-0 win at Man City in the League was generally accepted as a master class in the art of playing away from home, and that quality will have to be revisited when we turn up in Istanbul on Wednesday.
Before the game I was disappointed to see David Luiz emerge from some rehab work in the Chelsea Club behind the Matthew Harding Stand. My daughter had a different reaction and did well not to swoon onto the floor as he entered the room. I however was more mundanely preoccupied, thinking only that his presence would be a huge plus if he is fit in time for Galatasaray. With Nemanja Matic unavailable, his power and physical presence in that midfield along with his European experience could make all the difference. Happily he travelled over so fingers crossed.
David Luiz’s aerial prowess is also important, because even though we have JT, Ivanovic and Cahill, apparently they have some bloke up front who is pretty strong and damned good in the air. Didier Drogba will be giving his all in this one of course and there is little or no argument that he represents the dictionary definition of a big-game player, and this is certainly the biggest game he has had for a while. On our side, I reckon we have a fair idea on the coaching staff and on the pitch just what he is good at and where any of those hidden weaknesses are.
It is however also important not to ignore the other qualities in the Gala team. Wesley Sneijder is still a top-class player when he puts his mind to it, which he regularly does at home, but it is the quality given by Burak Yilmaz and Umut Bulut that is of just as much concern, both are exceptionally dangerous attacking players. With an incredibly noisy crowd who will be pumped up beyond belief and singing their hearts out six hours before a ball has been kicked, this is no easy task even if they did just sneak through to this stage in the strangest circumstances.
It is a bit of a cliché with Turkish sides that you never quite know what you are going to get but the group stages bore this out. The aggregate score against the mighty Juventus was 3-2 for Gala. On the other hand against Real Madrid it was 10-2 against, including a 6-1 destruction at their own Turk Telekom Arena. I played at the old stadium against them for Everton many years ago and the noise was just ridiculously loud. The new arena is bigger and more enclosed and I suspect even louder, but it is actually hard to imagine how it could be.
Every intimidation tactic will be utilised but it will be of no use against players as experienced as ours. In fact I suspect it will lift our lads who love these big occasions. Right now, quieting them and getting a well-organised technical match plan in place looks like the best ploy. A low-scoring draw would be fantastic for me, but the important thing is to give little away. You can lose the tie in an away first leg but you very rarely win it there. Another top-class defensive display to add to the many already this season and we could be well on our way to the next round.
Last week I asked if you could tell me the name of any past or present Chelsea player who has played for El Mokawloon? It was of course new boy Mohamed Salah. It was so easy some of you thought it must be a trick question, now come on, would I do that? Anyway from the many, many hundreds of correct answers the lucky winner randomly chosen by my now fully recovered glamorous assistant was Bamidele Abdullateef, one of the vast number of fervent supporters we have in Nigeria and in his case Lagos.
This week to have a chance of being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me what was Chelsea’s biggest win in a competitive match against a Turkish side? Answers as ever to me at email@example.com
Good luck with that and to the team in this crucial week.