Columnist and former Chelsea star Pat Nevin is anticipating the type of intriguing and closely-contested match expected at this stage of the biggest club competition…
Now I promise I won’t go on about how frustrated I, like every other Chelsea fan, was after the Sunderland game. Being the better team and then to lose is painful enough. To be then told in the media by many that Sunderland were the better side (please check the stats chaps), was a neat little turn of the knife, but nothing we aren’t used to. The importance of the three dropped points is clear for all to see however and that of course is the main torture, but hey that happens sometimes.
One moment and its consequences however did get me more than any other. As Ramires was just about to head the ball into an empty net from a couple of yards out in the first half, he was wiped out totally by Sebastian Larsson who didn’t even attempt to win the ball. It was the clearest penalty you will see all season as far as I am concerned. As it is not just a clear goal-scoring opportunity but more of a dead certain goal, the referee had no option but to send the Sunderland player off as well as give a spot kick.
I am not sure in what alternate universe this is not a penalty and a red card. Well it turns out that it wasn’t in the referee and assistants’ eyes and it wasn’t on Match of The Day either. A former Liverpool player described it as the best piece of defending in the game, my jaw hit the deck. If you have a chance look at it again, please by all means send me explanations of why I am wrong.
Had the correct decision been made and we scored the penalty, it would have made it 2-1 and Sunderland would have been down to 10 men. I have no doubt the Blues would have won and we would still have had an exciting title race going down to the line. It is a shame that all the tension has been taken out of the title race, but as I say these things happen. For balance Ramires was clearly in the wrong with his flailing elbow minutes later on the same Larsson, then again he would have flailed into thin air had his opponent been sent off when he should have been.
However that is all then and this is now and this is the Champions League semi-final. As I mentioned the other week, just as it has been ever since the 2010/11 season,it is once again the Blues who are last to be flying the flag for the Premier League and all of English football on the European stage. I am sure the entire game is proud of Chelsea for doing that…yes I can do irony too boss. For me I think getting into the top three in the league and getting to the semi-final of the Champions League is a very impressive first season back for the Jose. Anything more is a bonus as far as I am concerned considering the calibre of the opposition and the changes being made in our squad. That said, we certainly still have a chance of going all the way.
Atletico have been many people’s story of the season in domestic football anywhere in the world. To top Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga would have been considered something bordering on impossible at the start of the season, but there they are sitting deservedly up there with some breathing space to boot. Add on top of that they sold their top striker and best player Radamel Falcao to Monaco last year and it sounds even more impressive. The final cherry on top of their cake this year is that they have also done it in the Champions League and not the easy way.Porto, AC Milan, big spending Zenit and of course Barcelona all lay in their wake.
For anyone who has not watched them regularly, particularly in the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, they are a sight to behold as coach Diego Simeone drives his team and, just as impressively, the fans on to ever more impressive and improbable feats. They haven’t lost in the league at home so far this season, they have only lost one goal in their last 12 hours in La Liga and they have the superb Diego Costa at the front of the team with our own incredible Thibaut Courtois at the back. To be blunt, it is going to be very tough over there.
Fortunately we have a few things in our favour too; generally our defence is pretty darn good as well. There is plenty of European top-level experience in the squad, more than Atletico for sure. We have the luxury of having the second leg at The Bridge, which is always an advantage.We also have a manager who has been there, done it and seen it as far as anything the European and Spanish game can throw at us. Atletico will hold absolutely no surprises for the former Real Madrid coach, that’s for sure.
I have the suspicion this first leg may not be the prettiest or the most open game of football we have ever seen, but it will have its own fascination. Both sides are expertly drilled in the art of defending and are likely at any point to produce some magic from any number of areas when breaking. While JT and Gary Cahill are clearly the best central defensive partnership in England, there is a very good argument that Miranda and Diego Godin are their mirror images in Spain, so I am not expecting a 4-3! It will however be up to Simeone to make sure his is the more proactive side and as I hinted at before, he has been sensational at getting every ounce of energy out of every single player every week.
This will not be a night for the feint hearted, on the field or off. Looking at the Chelsea team at the weekend I suspect some of those who didn’t start may be vital for this tonight. David Luiz, be it in midfield or at full-back will be needed. Frank Lampard (pictured below) who has better game and tactical awareness than anyone will be another expected to feature at some point. Andre Schurrle likewise will be important for his tireless energy and whoever starts up front will be expected to run himself to exhaustion for an hour before being relieved of his duties. It may be the most thankless task of the night, but it is a vital one.
In short Chelsea need one thing, we need to be still in the tie after 90 minutes out there because back at the Bridge anything is possible, as PSG found out to their cost.
Last week’s quiz asked, ‘Before Demba Ba, who was the last Chelsea player to score in a league win for Chelsea in Swansea against Swansea City?’ Well it was a few years back I will grant you that. In fact it was Kerry Dixon back in 1983, the third and last goal in a 3-1 victory. For those interested John Bumstead and some other bloke scored the earlier goals, so they were not the correct answers. As ever there is only one winner and randomly chosen this week is Urša Dolžan from Križe in Slovenia.
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 the score the last time Chelsea played a match in Madrid? Answers as ever to me at [email protected] Good luck with that and come on the Chels tonight.