Chelsea blew a fantastic opportunity to earn a precious first-leg victory in their Champions League last-16 tie against Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray. There were a lot of subplots to this match-up, varying from Chelsea favorite Didier Drogba facing his former club for the first time, to former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini coming up against Mourinho, the man who succeeded him at the Inter Milan helm.
Chelsea were aiming to provide a much needed boost for English clubs following a miserable fortnight which had already seen Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United suffer 2-0 losses in each of their respective Champions League ties against Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Olympiakos. The Blues avoided an unwanted quadruple by scoring and avoiding defeat, but will feel they should be heading into next month’s return leg with a healthy lead.
Galatasaray boss Roberto Mancini is the more likely to be content with a draw after his team recovered from a shaky opening half during which the visitors threatened to take total control of the tie. The Turkish champions went into the match on the back of a 16-game unbeaten run at the Turk Telecom Arena.
The Premier League leaders were in command early on as they silenced Galatasaray fans by taking a 0-1 lead inside ten minutes. Galatasaray committed several men forward in attack and, after right-back Emmanuel Eboue lost the ball, the visitors countered swiftly down the left, with Cesar Azpilicueta squaring the ball for Torres to steer into an unguarded net to round off a superb counterattack.
It looked as though Chelsea’s game plan was to sit back behind the ball and then try to devastate Galatasaray on the counterattack. The Blues looked content to put numbers behind the ball after the opener, while still breaking quickly through the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian.
Chelsea did have a few chances to increase their lead; Brazilian Willian shot straight at the Galatasaray goalkeeper when he should have done a lot better. Torres also had another good chance to score a brace and show Mourinho that Chelsea’s strikers are capable of scoring after the Portuguese man’s latest comments, however a last-ditch challenge prevented him from doubling the lead.
The game seemed to turn around halfway through the first half after a brilliant tactical substitution by Mancini. The Italian sacrificed winger Izet Hajrovic for central midfielder Yekta Kurtulus as he switched to a 4-5-1 formation to provide his team with more stability against Chelsea’s counterattacking football.
It worked perfectly. Chelsea were closed down quicker in midfield and full-backs Azpilicueta and Ivanovic were prevented from providing extra attacking outlets down the wings.
Galatasaray did find the net just before halftime, but the goal was disallowed because there were two balls on the pitch. Terry held on to the first ball for far too long to prevent Galatasaray from taking a quick throw-in. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, a ballboy produced a second ball and the throw-in was taken with that one, allowing Yilmaz to drill his shot into the far corner. Sensibly, the referee blew his whistle, Terry was booked and the throw-in was re-taken. Gary Neville comically joked that “The ballboys have been Galatasaray’s best players in the first half.”
With their attacking threat blunted, Chelsea’s only real second-half chance fell to Torres. Hazard threaded a perfectly weighted through-ball to the Spaniard, whose low shot from 15 yards was palmed out by Muslera. The home crowd, sensing a let-off, started to find their voice as Galatasaray began to grow in belief.
However, just seconds after Galatasaray skipper Inan poked the ball against the post following Drogba’s downward header, they found an equalizer. Neither Chelsea captain John Terry – who was rarely troubled by former teammate Drogba on his reunion with the Blues – nor goalkeeper Petr Cech was able to deal with Wesley Sneijder’s left-wing corner, which allowed Chedjou to arrive unmarked and convert from inside the six-yard box – a very sloppy goal to concede on Chelsea’s part. After the match, Jose Mourinho stated:
“The result is not amazing and the situation in the second leg will be difficult. If Stamford Bridge can give us 10 per cent of what this crowd gave them tonight it would be fantastic for us. I just ask for 10 per cent of what this stadium gave to Galatasaray. One-all is better than 0-0 so I think you cannot say it’s a bad result.”
We will have to wait and see how costly that mistake is when the two teams meet again for the second leg at Stamford Bridge on the 18th of March.
Written by Dan Bannell