Didier Drogba’s emotional homecoming is something of a damp squib
Chelsea were simply too slick for a limited Galatasaray team
Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba during last night’s game at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
As is so often the case with overblown emotional homecomings, Didier Drogba’s return to Stamford Bridge was, ultimately, something of a damp squib. Chelsea were simply too slick for a limited Galatasaray team, who were stifled in the centre of midfield and forced into a wary counterattacking retreat by the nimble movement of Eden Hazard, who was excellent again, and the ever-willing Willian. They will expect to face much stronger opposition in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Drogba, wheeled out on these occasions like a first world war field gun removed from its crate and pointed rather hopefully in the right direction, seemed their most obvious threat before kick-off, if only for his grand sense of personal history on this ground. In the event he was muted, disarmed most obviously by his own advancing years, but possibly also, just a little, by what was a carefully stage-managed homecoming occasion.
Here Drogba was only ever likely to be a distant menace, confining himself throughout the first half to a series of central arm wrestles with John Terry and Gary Cahill, and generally striding about the turf like a half-speed Drogba nostalgia act, still capable at this level but lacking his old warrior-like surge at the age of 36.
There is of course a genuine warmth here. Not that Jose Mourinho’s current crop of post-Drogba strikers have felt much of that. As far as having no strikers goes, having three vastly experienced international centre-forwards with between them four Champions League medals, a World Cup, two Euros, an African Cup of Nations is probably at the slightly better end of things. But then Mourinho has always thrived on galvanising opposition and this season has been the story of the club with no strikers, albeit this narrative was slightly undermined here when Samuel Eto’o scored the opening goal after four minutes.
The goal came at the end of a startlingly simple move, Hazard finding space on the left and playing a low pass into Eto’o, who produced a spurt to lose his defender and shot hard and low into the corner off Fernando Muslera’s palm. Mourinho – who, it must be emphasised, has no strikers – remained seated. It was Eto’o’s 33rd goal in this competition and he looked sprightly in the first half, teasing Aurelien Chedjou with some darting runs in between spells spent in his familiar resting position, the Eto’o “standby setting”.
There was time for the home crowd to boo the greatest player in its history for taking a tumble under a challenge from Terry before Drogba sent a thundering overhead kick into the Matthew Harding stand.
Hazard was the liveliest player on the pitch, on one occasion nudging his way deliciously past Alex Telles from a standing start with an outrageous waggle of the hips.
Otherwise Chelsea were compact, muscular and precise from set pieces, as they were in scoring the goal on 42 minutes that made it 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate.
It was almost a Drogba era tribute in itself, Frank Lampard’s corner headed goalwards by Terry and ultimately thumped in by Cahill.