Fenerbahçe continued to be the surprise package of this Champions League season by coming back from a goal down to beat Chelsea 2-1 on Wednesday. The atmosphere at the Sükrü Saraçoglu Stadium was electric as always though the home fans were stunned early on when Chelsea were gifted the lead.
It appeared that Fenerbahçe manager Zico had instructed his full-backs to push forward as much as possible. However, this left Florent Malouda and Joe Cole too much space on the flanks in the early stages and this played a big part in Chelsea’s early dominance of the match.
An attempted cutback by Florent Malouda was turned into his own goal by Deivid. Minutes later, Michael Essien, starting at right-back for Chelsea, powered forward and skimmed a shot off the crossbar. The chances kept coming for Chelsea but Volkan Demirel, who was both goat and hero in the last round, made some key saves to keep the score close.
The match turned when Zico decided to shift things and bring on another striker to help Kezman up front. The Turkish side levelled when London-born Colin Kazim-Richards (known as Kaz?m Kaz?m in Turkey) smashed home Mehmet Aurelio’s pass over the top of the Chelsea defence. The former Sheffield United forward, who also had stints at Bury and Brighton, came on for U?ur Boral and gave his side an injection of pace and supplied some much-needed energy up front. Zico would later replace Kezman with Semih ?entürk to keep fresh legs running at the Chelsea defenders. ?entürk has been worked into the first team more often since Tuncay ?anl? was allowed to leave and sign with Middlesbrough.
Fenerbahçe pressed on and found the winner in the 81st minute from Deivid who made amends for his earlier lapse. From about 30 yards out, he unleashed a perfect striker into the top corner that Carlo Cudicini could have done little about. The crowd unleashed a thunderous roar and one has to wonder if Fenerbahçe can muster the same energy and passion away from home next week. If they can, Chelsea will be knocked out.
In the other quarter-final from Wednesday, Arsenal and Liverpool played to a 1-1 draw in a game that offered moments of drama but was often a one-sided match. The early stages of the match, the 200th meeting between the old rivals who first met in 1893, were filled with stops and starts, plenty of poor passes and very little flow.
Arsenal slowly began to press and Robin van Persie had a great chance to put Arsenal ahead after 20 minutes when he found himself in space and onside after eluding Sami Hyypia to collect a long over-the-top pass from Mathieu Flamini. Arsenal took a deserved lead three minutes later through Adebayor. Van Persie worked a short corner with Fabregas and crossed for Adebayor, who rose to head home, while Sami Hyypia stood and watched the play unfold, leaving Reina helpless as the ball hit the back of the net.
As has been the case so many times in the past, Liverpool were inspired by Steven Gerrard and leveled the match with their first chance of the game. Gerrrard picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Arsenal area and dribbled past both Emmanuel Eboué and Kolo Touré before crossing low for Dirk Kuyt to bundle the ball in.
The second half was all Arsenal in another familiar display. As so many times in the past, the Gunners dominated possession but were unable to apply the finishing touches as Liverpool sat back and absorbed the pressure. Liverpool were fortunate twice in the space of five minutes midway through the second half. Defender Martin Skrtel cleared an Emmanuel Eboue shot off the line and a shot from Cesc Fabregas hit Arsenal team mate Nicklas Bendtner standing on the Liverpool goal-line though, in fairness, Bendtner had been ruled offside so the goal would not have counted anyway.
Liverpool were also lucky to avoid having a penalty called against them after Alexander Hleb appeared to be hauled down inside the penalty area by Dirk Kuyt. Dutch referee Peter Vink appeared to be well-placed to see whether Hleb was impeded by Kuyt and waved away Arsenal’s appeals. Personally, I felt it could have gone either way. Kuyt did commit the foul but Hleb also appeared to embellish it which may have actually cost Arsenal the call though we’ll never know for certain.
The draw (and away goal) gives a slight advantage to Liverpool, though Arsenal will have confidence after defeating AC Milan comprehensively at the San Siro in the last round. Liverpool, given their record against English opposition at Anfield, will also feel confident about their chances but will need to shake off their overly defensive posture and not allow Arsenal to dominate possession again.
For me, the key players in the match were Javier Mascherano and Dirk Kuyt. Mascherano delivered 90 minutes of tireless ball-winning and did well in distributing the ball when Liverpool had possession. Kuyt, as usual, worked his socks off but this time did have something to show for it. Used in more of a shadowing role to help Jamie Carragher keep the Clichy/Hleb combo in check down the left flank, Kuyt managed to pop up in the box and score the all-important away goal.
As has been talked about, the two clubs meet in the English Premier League this Saturdy before resuming their Champions League battle on Tuesday. It will prove to be the key week for both these clubs as the CL final in Moscow looms as their last chance for silverware this year.