Chelsea hold the upper hand
Jose Mourinho’s side settle for 1-1 draw away to Galatasaray in Champions League
Galatasaray manager Roberto Mancini tries to get his message across as Wesley Sneijder takes a throw-in against Chelsea. Photograph: Tolga Bozoglu/EPA
Galatasaray 1 Chelsea 1
This knockout tie lacks the sense of dread that grips the other three English clubs after first-leg defeats, with Chelsea retaining a sense of authority going into the return at Stamford Bridge. But events in Istanbul probably exposed Chelsea’s challenge for what it is.
Jose Mourinho publicly considers his team outsiders to win this competition and, in failing to kill off Galatasaray, they provided ample backing for that assertion.
The visitors’ initial profligacy was punished after the interval, and thereafter with Chelsea were stretched at times. They departed for home with a draw, but this still felt like a missed opportunity.
The build-up to this tie had been dominated by talk of emotional reunions. Didier Drogba had hugged his former team-mates at the pre-match lineups, and saluted the 1,300 travelling supporters in this sparkling arena, before the romance was snuffed out. Ramires saw to that with a crunching challenge within the opening 20 seconds to floor the Galatasaray striker. The foul was rightly penalised, but the point had been made.
Not that the game should have retained its competitive edge beyond the opening half-hour. By then Chelsea might have settled the tie, so porous was the Gala back-line with their game-plan handing the visitors the initiative from the outset. Hakan Balta and Aurelien Chedjou pushed high up the pitch, leaving tantalisingly wide open spaces at their back. Add to that the reality that Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Telles were eager sprinters from full-back, carrying a threat in the opposite half but forever caught out of position when possession was surrendered, and Chelsea quickly sensed their opportunity.
Adrenalin also clouded the hosts’ judgment in the din. Headed clearances by the Chelsea centre-halves suddenly became threatening through-balls, the visiting trio of creative midfielders relishing the regular opportunities to burst into space on the counter. Mourinho’s selection made that possible, with the decision to pick Fernando Torres for a first start since January 11th justified by his slippery running where Samuel Eto’o might not have prospered so readily. Andre Schurrle, too, appeared fresh and eager on only his second start since New Year’s Day. By the interval the visitors’ only frustration was that they had gleaned only one reward.
The lead could have been secured even earlier than it was, when Willian seized upon a scuffed clearance from the Gala goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, only for his lobbed attempt to deflect just wide from the Uruguayan’s head. Yet lessons were not heeded by Gala.
With Eboue charging head down into Chelsea’s half, Cesar Azpilicueta reclaimed possession, shifted the ball on, and was liberated by Schurrle’s pass down the left. The Spanish full-back charged towards the by-line and drew out Muslera before pulling back for Torres to convert first-time into a gaping net. It was the forward’s sixth goal in his last five Champions League starts.
Schurrle might have provided a second, only for his centre to arrive rather awkwardly with Ramires, and the Brazilian’s attempt flew high. Galatasaray were helpless whenever the ball was lost in the Chelsea half, even if the home side were spared further damage before the break.
Chelsea, of course, have been undone by an inability to kill off opponents too often this season, and that familiar sense of foreboding was fuelled when Torres collected from Hazard early in the second period and held off both Chedjou and the substitute Semih Kaya only to see his low shot turned aside by Muslera. The miss felt costly, as the home side finally found some rhythm of their own.
Telles and Izet Hajrovic forced Petr Cech into saves even though the chances were only from glimpses at goal, and Chelsea were keenly feeling the absence of the cup-tied Nemanja Matic and the injured David Luiz in the centre of midfield, their vulnerability at set-pieces duly exposed. Drogba might have drawn Galatasaray level, climbing to nod down and across goal towards Selcuk Inan who, stretching beyond the far post, prodded on to the woodwork from a yard out.
Within minutes, Sneijder’s corner had bypassed the visiting defence and Chedjou emerged to volley in from close range. Cech denied Eboue and Telles in what time remained, yet Chelsea survived to claim their draw.