The pressure is mounting on Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas after his side were downed 2-1 by Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League Wednesday night. After losing three out of their last four games in the Premier League it was hoped the Blues would be able to put in a performance to get themselves back on track. However, after taking the lead through Drogba and flirting with qualification for large parts of the game, they were beaten by a Bayer Leverkusen side inspired by their old-boy Michael Ballack. The German side, who are now guaranteed a place in the last 16 of the competition, leapfrogged the Londoners courtesy of Manuel Friedrich’s header from Gonzalo Castro’s 91st-minute corner, leaving André Villas-Boas’s side requiring a clean sheet or a victory against Valencia in next month’s showdown at Stamford Bridge to qualify.
Chelsea do not usually find themselves needing to get a result from the last game of the group stages to qualify. It emphasizes the truth that they really are going through a mini crisis. Once again, the defending was all over the place, and Villas-Boas’ team were far too attacking. However, Chelsea will be deeply frustrated to come away with a loss. They let it slip, and these lapses are becoming too much of a habit.
Chelsea arrived with more bad news when it emerged that Ashley Cole, who had started all of their Barclays Premier League and European games this season, had been struck down by an ankle injury. Jose Bosingwa was recalled as an emergency left-back, while Raul Meireles and Daniel Sturridge came into the side beaten by Liverpool on Sunday — but there was still no place for Fernando Torres. Ballack, the 35-year-old midfielder, was playing his 100th game in Europe and inspired Leverkusen to dominate possession. Chelsea were pegged back. Villas-Boas had shifted the formation before kick-off and played Frank Lampard in a more attacking role to support Drogba, who had the first shot for Chelsea, dragging the ball wide of the post. However, Chelsea were playing dangerously when Gonzalo Castro won a corner which was met by Ballack whose header struck the cross-bar only to be hacked away by Ramires.
Chelsea then began to threaten and when Mata was brought into the game, they looked like even more like scoring. Daniel Sturridge, who rose above the general mediocrity, played an inch-perfect through-ball and Drogba rounded Bernd Leno before lashing wildly into the side-netting from a tight angle. Leverkusen began to lose their discipline, as Ballack became the third Leverkusen player to be booked. Mata then had a volley that was saved by Leno, after more fantastic work from Sturridge, and Chelsea went into half-time in control of the game.
Chelsea picked up where they had left off and were in front inside three minutes of the restart. Sturridge floated another fabulous ball in to Drogba, who brilliantly held off Friedrich before turning and rifling left-footed into the bottom corner for only his second goal of the season. Chelsea stepped up their momentum and had more chances to put the game to bed, including when Leno, the young goalkeeper, fantastically denied substitute Florent Malouda who had forced his way into the area and pushed his shot goalwards. However nerves began to creep into Chelsea’s game and Leverkusen, and Ballack, were twice denied by Petr Cech, first from an overhead kick and then from point blank range in a goal mouth scramble, but finally, after 73 minutes, the German side were able to equalize. Gonzalo Castro’s low cross was dummied by substitute Eren Derdiyok and Sidney Sam, through on goal, fooled the Chelsea defense by lofting a ball to the back post for Swiss striker Derdiyok to head home.
A draw was a reasonable result for Chelsea, but they were desperate for victory and Drogba was unfortunate not to win a penalty. Drogba then had another chance to score, but volleyed wide, and it proved costly. With the final whistle looming, Leverkusen snatched victory, Friedrich leaping superbly to power Castro’s corner in off the crossbar. Bayer Leverkusen now top Group E going into the last round of fixtures with nine points and Chelsea sit second, level on points with their next opponents Valencia, leaving their hopes of qualifying hanging in the balance.