In one of the greatest team
performances in Chelsea’s history, the Blues trounced
the fifth placed team in Serie A on their own patch.
The first-half was positively English, furious pace, crunching
tackles, driving attack, open play, end to end football.
The anger, fouling and spitting were neither English nor
European, however! Chelsea started by far the better side.
Veron only just failed to reach Bridge’s cross which had
defeated goalkeeper Sereni after Duff’s break, when Chelsea
took the lead.
Mutu won a free-kick off Liverani having attacked down
the left from Veron’s fine ball. Veron took the free-kick,
whipping a curler from wide towards the far post. Everyone
missed it and the uncertain Sereni slapped the ball out
straight on to Crespo’s face. It rebounded in. Fourteen
minutes had gone.
Veron had received a hero’s welcome from the home crowd
when Chelsea came out, a champion returning, but Crespo
was booed. He loved this goal.
Chelsea were flying. Little details like Lampard brilliantly
rounding Stankovic and Favalli with flicks were exhilarating
but the second goal wouldn’t come. Duff’s clever cross
past Mihajlovic just evaded Crespo and Mutu.
Soon after Mutu headed back Duff’s corner and Crespo’s
overhead was just wide. But Lazio began to get in the
game. The half hour was approaching.
There had already been bad moments such as when Inzaghi
had thrown himself down as Terry challenged but didn’t
touch him, and now the striker won a free-kick off Gallas.
Mutu brilliantly blocked Albertini’s shot.
Things suddenly turned very nasty. A couple of crunching
tackles were followed by Mihajlovic kicking Mutu after
fouling him. Next thing Mutu was jumping with a slightly
stray elbow – nothing too ferocious – and Mihajlovic responded
by spitting in his ear. He is likely to face a lengthy
ban as this was caught on camera.
Makelele and Inzaghi, Johnson and Stankovic, the feuds
started boiling. Lazio increased the pressure and won
a succession of corners, cutting through Chelsea’s midfield
diamond. Terry brilliantly back-flicked Inzaghi’s header
across goal away from Corradi and then headed away Stankovic’s
20 yarder bulleting to the top corner.
Mutu was booked for his second wild challenge in a minute,
the critical one on Liverani, and Cudicini for time wasting
as half-time approached. The Lazio corners piled up, Corradi
delivering one thumping header just over the bar.
But Chelsea should have gone in two ahead at the interval.
First Crespo, lucky to survive an offside flag, shot weakly
allowing Sereni to save after another good Veron break
and pass. Then the big striker back-flicked Mutu’s square
ball from three metres following a wonderful move started
by Duff going past two wild challenges. Crespo had found
Mutu from Duff’s pass but should have done better with
the return. Sereni saved at the second attempt.
As the teams went off at half-time Makelele and Inzaghi
had to be separated.
The second-half started with the save of the season from
Cudicini. Stankovic’s shot from the left was whipped like
Veron’s free-kick, everyone missed it and the goalkeeper
flung himself across goal to palm out. Inzaghi followed
up and shot for the gaping net, but Cudicini dived from
the ground to save again.
In two minutes the game was decided between Mihajlovic
and Duff. First the defender took the attacker from behind
and was booked. Then he tripped him as he raced for goal
and he was sent off. Mihajlovic went arguing and screaming,
refused to leave the perimeter when a UEFA official asked
him to and flung a bottle in his direction.
Claudio Ranieri sent on Gronkjaer for the still wild Mutu
after 56 minutes, and Chelsea went to 4-3-3, stretching
10 men Lazio. Negro replaced Fiore two minutes later,
going to centre-half, and they played 4-3-2.
Lazio nearly equalised when Corradi chipped cleverly after
Cudicini had palmed out a cross under pressure, but again
the goalkeeper rose to save.
At the other end Crespo failed to make contact with Duff’s
low cross and was replaced by Gudjohnsen on 66 minutes.
But suddenly it was all Chelsea. Lazio collapsed. Lampard
sent Gronkjaer away and his low shot sizzled past Sereni
but just past the far post. But within seconds Veron sent
Lampard away, he found no support, held the ball up, turned
and rounded Couto and shot left-footed. Serena palmed
and Gudjohnsen netted. He’d been on two minutes.
Lazio sent on Lopez and Muzzi for Inzaghi and Albertini.
Cudicini had to perform miracles again to save at Lopez’
feet after a mix-up between Johnson and Gallas, but Chelsea
were rampant now.
Duff cut inside Favalli from the left, forced himself
across Negro and Couto and shot into the far corner. 0-3!
Cole immediately replaced Veron with 16 minutes to go.
Three minutes later Cole’s shot was deflected to Gudjohnsen
and his thunderbolt was palmed by Sereni for Lampard to
finish. Three goals off Sereni’s palms. 0-4!
Cudicini did it from Corradi’s head yet again – the forward
couldn’t believe it – and then Johnson got himself sent
off for a second booking after kicking the ball away.
Ranieri was furious with him as he left the pitch.
The near 4,000 Chelsea followers then received their final
treat. Captain John Terry dragged spectator Gianfranco
Zola out to wave to them.
Football nights don’t come better than this.