Posts Tagged ‘Didier Drogba’

Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool: Drogba Powers the Blues Into the First CL Final of the Club’s History (UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals, Leg 2)

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

“Third time’s the charm” for the Blues. They couldn’t do it in 2005 when a Luis Garcia goal crushed their hopes at Anfield, nor could they do it in 2007 due to the cruel lottery of penalty kicks. Yet 2008 may prove to be a magical year for Roman Abramovich’s team: in the 3rd semi-final in 4 years opposing the two Premiership sides, Chelsea have finally overcome Liverpool thanks to the power of Didier Drogba and the nerves of steel of Frank Lampard, and will be contending the “cup with the big ears” to Manchester United in Moscow.

In all honesty, Chelsea have come a long way to this achievement. After José Mourinho’s sacking in September, many people had predicted that his surly replacement, former Israel coach Avram Grant, would not even last till the end of the season. Believe what you want now naysayers, the Israeli manager may not be popular, he may not have a witty repartee like his Portuguese predecessor, and he may even be hated by some of his players, but he achieved what Mourinho could not do in his 3 years at Chelsea: lead the Blues to the first UEFA Champions League final of the club’s history.

Tactically, both managers could count on a somewhat complete roster, aside from the expected absences of Paulo Ferreira for Chelsea and Fabio Aurelio for Liverpool. While the replacement of the latter wasn’t exactly worry-free for Rafael Benitez (we all know what John Arne Riise did in the first leg), Avram Grant was much more confident in that regard, given the return of the much-needed Michael Essien from suspension. These two notes aside, both teams’ formations were an exact photocopy of the first leg: 4-3-3 for Chelsea (with Solomon Kalou replacing Malouda on the left wing) and 4-2-3-1 for Liverpool (Yossi Benayoun replacing Babel).

Much like one would expect from a Stamford Bridge match, the first 45 minutes were an almost exclusive affair of the home team. Confident and energetic, Avram Grant’s side adopted without any inhibition the role of favorites, especially because a 0-0 draw would have granted them a guaranteed qualification to the tournament final. To make matters worse for Liverpool, the visitors’ in-form Slovakian center-back, Martin Škrtel, picked up a knock in the 23rd and had to be substituted. His replacement (Finnish veteran Sami Hyypiä) did not prove to be quite as reliable, as we shall see later.

More sooner than later actually, as coincidentally Škrtel was also the man responsible for the marking of Didier Drogba. In minute 33, the Ivorian striker was faster than anyone to pick up Solomon’s Kalou rebound (spilled by Pepe Reina, after a narrowly offside pass from Lampard) and beat the Reds keeper on his first post. 1-0 Chelsea.

Drogba’s goal was merely the tip of the iceberg of a Chelsea-dominated first half. Just before opening the score, the Blues striker had squandered a very good chance in front of the net, exploiting yet another pass by Frank Lampard (attending the match almost at the last minute, still shaken from the loss of his mother earlier last week), and before the half ended Michael Ballack came very close to making it 2-0, as his good free-kick effort grazed Pepe Reina’s post. After 45 minutes, the score was 1-0 for Chelsea.

In the second period, the half-time speech of Rafael Benitez must have done something for Liverpool, because his boys came out of the tunnel with guns blazing. A short-range blast from Dirk Kuyt almost gave the Reds a dream start, had Petr Cech’s great reflexes not been quite as reliable. It was however a precursor of things to come because the visitors slowly built up their confidence, upped the tempo and pressure, and eventually grabbed the equalizer in the 64th. A great dribbling run by Yossi Benayoun was followed by a great through pass for Fernando Torres, right on the edge of the box, and the Spanish striker left very little chance to Cech as he slid the ball into the bottom-right corner. 1-1, and Liverpool’s first goal at Stamford Bridge in 841 minutes of playing time (aka 9 matches).

With the scored tied 1-1, it looked more and more obvious that this game was headed for extra time, especially because neither team was willing to take too many risks on account of the unofficial (but often a reality) “whoever scores first now wins” rule. Chelsea had to be extra careful of course, because any goal conceded at this point would have to be answered with two of their own. Nevertheless, the last “big chance” of the 90 minutes was to the benefit of the home team, as Michael Essien advanced from his right-back position, breaking through inside the box, and shot on the outside part of the goal mesh.

In extra time, there was drama and entertainment aplenty and ironically, many more scoring opportunities (and goals scored) than in the previous 90 minutes. It all started with Hyypiä’s narrowly wide header following a corner-kick, and continued through to Essien’s disallowed goal in the 95th: as it turned out, there were over four Blues players in the offside position but more importantly, Drogba was obstructing the view of Pepe Reina. Good call from the Italian refereeing trio, lead by the expert Roberto Rosetti.

The Blues’ screams of complaint however turned into screams of joy a few minutes later, when a Hyypiä foul on Michael Ballack inside the box gave Chelsea a chance to regain their lead. Much like Riise’s own goal in the first leg this was a big mistake by the Finnish center-back, and allowed Frank Lampard to emotionally dedicate the spot-kick goal to his deceased mother. 2-1 Chelsea.

2-1 became 3-1 just before the first half ended, as a newly-substituted Nicolas Anelka gave his contribution to the match, assisting Didier Drogba with his second goal of the night. 3-1 Chelsea and game effectively over.

Over? Not quite? In minute 117, a mistake by Petr Cech on Ryan Babel’s long-range piledriver gave the Reds an excuse to push everything forward in the final minutes, but even at 3-2 it was too little too late. To quote BBC Sport: “It was a frantic end to an astonishing match, but Chelsea saw it out to send the home fans into raptures and put themselves in with a chance of becoming the first London club to lift Europe’s most sought-after prize.”

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 Chelsea F.C. CHELSEA-LIVERPOOL
3-2 a.e.t (1-1 FT)
[Match Highlights]
Liverpool F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 33’, 105’ Drogba (C), 64’ F.Torres (L), 98’ pen. Lampard (C), 117’ Babel (L)
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech – Essien, Carvalho, Terry, A.Cole – Ballack, Makelele, Lampard (119’ Shevchenko) – J.Cole (91’ Anelka), Drogba, Kalou (70’ Malouda). (bench: Cudicini, Alex, Belletti, Mikel). Coach: Grant.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel (23’ Hyypia), Riise – Xabi Alonso, Mascherano – Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (78’ Pennant) – F.Torres (99’ Babel). (bench: Itandje, Finnan, Lucas Leiva, Crouch). Coach: Benitez

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