Chelsea were set a big, big test of our character
and abilities tonight and by the end of a pulsating game,
we had passed with no little panache.
With small margin for error left after the Besiktas result
and after the potentially confidence sapping calamity at
Highbury four days earlier, the team found themselves trailing
tonight despite a bright start.
But still the crisp passing football continued to be played
and still the belief continued to flow and in the end, a
Frank Lampard spectacular and a typical piece of predatory
finishing by Adrian Mutu took us to the top of our Champions
The one goal deficit we took into the break was incurred
after 38 minutes and it’s fair to say it came from Lazio’s
first real opening of the evening. Before that all the best
football had been Chelsea’s.
Damien Duff was once again roaming with threat behind the
front two of Mutu and Gudjohnsen, his direct darts at Stam
and the velocity-challenged Mihajlovic a source of hope.
Veron, nominally on the left of a diamond midfield but patrolling
all land between the penalty areas was unveiling his best
display of passing in a Chelsea shirt. The movement off
the ball from everyone was the best we had seen all season.
In just the fourth minute, Wayne Bridge burst forward, moved
the ball on to Gudjohnsen who went outside the covering
defender and shot not too far over.
Then it was his strike partner’s turn to threaten. Mihajlovic
let the ball slip his attention and Mutu raced into the
large gap behind. The Romanian let fly but let fly wide
of the far post.
Lazio’s defence wasn’t comfortable and a long ball from
the back had the whole lot of them trailing in the wake
of Mutu and Gudjohnsen. The latter of the two collected
the bal out wide but his attempt to find his partner in
front of goal was thwarted by a retreating defender. A great
opening had gone begging.
The game was easy on the eye, only punctuated by two late
challenges and subsequent bookings for Veron and Mihajlovic
– Albertini and Gudjohnsen the assaulted players.
Then the penned-in visitors landed their retaliatory punch.
For the first time they found a way round the back of the
impressive Glen Johnson, a corner being the cost. The initial
ball in was cleared but a long pass back out to the left
by Oddo found Stankovic away from the young Chelsea right-back
His header back in was dangerous and Inzaghi, always lethal
from a yard (when he manages to stay on his feet!) was able
to bundle the ball in.
This season’s Champions League chances were beginning to
hang by a thread but this Chelsea team did not freeze. On
the stroke of half-time, Frank Lampard attempted to commence
the fight-back by cutting in and unleashing a sweetly struck
shot from 30 yards. The crossbar was still shaking as the
referee’s whistle brought the opening period to a close.
There were no changes at half-time – Claudio Ranieri happy
with the performance he had seen and Roberto Mancini satisfied
with the position he was in.
John Terry was booked soon after the restart, bring Inzaghi’s
surge to an end with William Gallas off the pitch receiving
treatment and the on-pitch defensive cover stretched thin.
Duff shot wide as Chelsea pressed toward the Shed End and
on 57 minutes, Frank Lampard had that section and all other
sides of the ground leaping to their feet.
Mutu advanced through the middle and seeing no further way
forward played the ball out to Duff who knocked it on to
Gudjohnsen. Showing good awareness, the ball was laid back
to Lampard and what followed was arguably his best strike
for Chelsea so far.
From the edge of the area he curled the ball over Peruzzi
with both pace and precision. It was a terrific way to equalise.
The hunt was on for the lead. Veron curled a free-kick onto
the roof of the net while Cudicini had to show his best
reflexes to keep out a deflected shot from Zauri.
Veron committed another less-than-pretty foul and with a
second booking hovering on the horizon like a black cloud
plus signs of tiring beginning to show, he was replaced
by Gronkjaer who went wide right. Lampard moved to the middle
with Duff drifting out to the left.
Sixty-five minutes had passed and the flying Dane’s impact
was instant. He took on Lazio’s captain and left-back, Favalli,
in a dart to the bye-line, he won it and crossed to the
feet of Mutu. The first shot cannoned back off a defender
but as is Mutu’s happy habit, his second attempt found the
corner of the net.
Duff almost engineered a third but his low cross was just
inches in front of Gudjohnsen and then Cudicini was called
to the rescue for a second time. Putting his Highbury horrors
behind him, he took off and arched his back to tip over
a top corner-bound header by Corradi who had impressed as
a target man throughout.
Italian international Stefano Fiore was introduced and was
immediately booked for tugging back Johnson and then Geremi
was brought on for Duff. Liverani for Stankovic was Lazio’s
The limit on the away team’s chances was down in no small
part to another towering performance by John Terry, a great
block and tackle on Corradi in front of goal in the closing
stages arguably the peak.
The end game began and there was a moment of fear followed
by blessed relief as Conceicao messed up a wonderful chance
to equalise. Fiore’s cross from the left arched over the
top of the Chelsea defence where the Portuguese international
awaited totally unmarked. His headed effort didn’t even
Joe Cole came on for Mutu with eight minutes remaining and
played a major part in a succession of ball-retaining juggles
near the corner flag. One such attempt to run the clock
down ended in a mass scuffle with Oddo’s hack at Cole the
The Italian international full-back was duly booked and
with the red mist still lingering, he took the ball on a
powerful surge through the centre of a weary Chelsea team
and floated a chip over Cudicini. For a nasty nanosecond,
it looked to be dipping in but thankfully the crossbar was
just a little too low.
The final whistle blew and the Chelsea fans amongst a 40,405
crowd (Lazio providing a healthy presence) launched into
a chorus of ‘Are you watching Ars-e-nal?’ So it now lies
all square between Chelsea and Lazio in Champions League
encounters. A 0-0 draw and a 2-1 defeat four years ago was
levelled out by the 2-1 win today. In two weeks time we
can decide this mini-contest – and quite possibly the destination
of Group G too.
= Frank Lampard