Proponents of the notion that the Premier League is the best in the world – an oft repeated mantra – might want to shut up for once and take a look at the Champions League this year. For the past few years, English clubs have dominated the latter stages, now they’re down to two already.
Worse yet, Chelsea bowed out with little more than a whimper, utterly crushed by Mourinho’s Inter Milan side. It was victory born out of clever tactics by deploying Eto’o and Pandev as wide attackers to block Chelsea’s full-backs and by applying a brute physicality defensively. Drogba, the unstoppable force of nature, looked like a little boy lost. It reminded me of when you move up from High School to the Seniors and suddenly you’re playing against kids who are bigger, faster and harder than you. I’ve never seen him look so ineffective, so lame. He was bossed from the start to the finish of both ties. Premier League defenders should take note; they were given a three hour master-class on how to handle Drogba in these games.
Lucio and Samuel marshalled the defence with a resolution that sapped Chelsea’s will to win. As the game went on, I found myself thinking how similar to some recent England teams Chelsea were. When they came up against a well organized well-motivated side, they ran out of ideas, lack width and pace and unable to dominate possession. On top of that they were prone to basic defensive errors such as Terry’s misjudgment of a cross that found Eto-o only for him to head it wide.
Inter put Chelsea in a strait-jacket and Chelsea could do nothing about it because they lacked creativity and invention. I’d forgotten Lampard was even on the pitch, Anelka was similarly anonymous. Cole looked off the pace when he came on and did nothing to suggest he is essential to Chelsea’s future.
As Mourinho busied himself with subs, telling his players where to go and how to play, Ancelotti stood impassive, his face expressionless. The contrast could not have been greater. He had no more ideas to try, no more wisdom to impart, nothing. The tank was empty. He knew it and his players knew it. As soon as Eto’o scored, all life went out of the Blues. They accepted that they couldn’t score two to take it to extra-time and barely even tried to do so.
This was the tournament Ancelotti was employed to win. He confessed it was his priority before the game. The fact that they have failed so early on, is not likely to please Abramovich, a man not known for giving a manager time. But it wasn’t just the defeat per se, it was the manner of the defeat that will have shocked him. It was tame affair and smacked of a side unmotivated by Ancelotti and out thought by Mourinho.
Given that, even domestic trophies may well not save Ancelotti in the summer. He looked a beaten man last night. Despite his excellent record, there have been suspicions all season long that he has not done enough to change Chelsea to give them the edge that they had under Mourinho. The doubters had clear evidence last night. They lacked guts, fight and self belief. Three things Mourinho has in abundance and could still have been giving to Chelsea if the owner had acted more like a football man and less like a Russian oligarch.