Make sure your passports
are in date – our European adventure continues into the
new year! That’s the take home message from Stamford Bridge
And it is messages rather than memories that most present
will be taking away from a rather lifeless game. However
a point is all that was needed to guarantee a place in
the last 16 knockout of the Champions League and a point
is what we achieved.
Speaking of points, Chelsea can point to two strikes against
the woodwork plus chances for Hernan Crespo in the first
minute of both halves, and an extraordinary miss by Adrian
Mutu at the death as evidence that this was a game that
could, and should have been won.
Sparta Prague’s point of view will be that they came to
keep things tight with a five man midfield and that they
did defended well. In doing so they have kept their qualification
hopes alive so who can argue that their game plan was
From the off Chelsea did not lack possession but for most
of the game we did lack that little touch of guile needed
on such evenings.
Just one goal would almost certainly have made a big difference
to the course of events and it almost came with the Champions
League centre-circle banner still being folded pitchside.
From the opening attack Crespo collected a long ball behind
most of the defence but rather than pass, he attempt to
beat the last defender and the keeper collected off his
An early buzz went up around the Bridge but we had to
wait 20 minutes for more action. This time Joe Cole, playing
on the left of a midfield diamond, advanced and laid the
ball back to Lampard who drove not too far over from distance.
Then Chelsea found the net. Damien Duff’s eel-like runs
always looked the most likely way of finding holes in
the Prague barricade but this time it was a chip towards
the far post that almost paid off.
It was just the sort of ammunition Crespo craves and his
powerful header crashed off the crossbar and down. A Prague
defender attempted to chest back to his keeper with Mutu
just inches away and when the Chelsea man intercepted,
the ball fell to Crespo again who slammed it in. He was
ruled offside however.
In similar style to Duff, Cole almost set-up Mutu but
his flicked header lacked both power and direction and
then Prague had their one true chance - Sionko heading
wide after beating Wayne Bridge to a Michalik cross.
As half-time approached, Cole tried his luck with a low
shot from distance which may or may not have been creeping
inside the post. Keeper Blazek took no chances and dived
Throughout the first 45 minutes, Claudio Ranieri was not
backward in showing his displeasure with some aspects
of his team’s performance (the same also the case for
his counterpart, Jiri Kotrba) and no doubt the half-time
team talk was a little tasty.
The Chelsea head coach opted to change neither team shape
nor personnel at the break however and those he left on
almost repaid the faith instantly.
Mutu got away down the left (the flank that saw almost
all Chelsea attacks) and found Duff. His shot was blocked
but it fell to Crespo who with quickness of thought back-heeled
goalwards. It went a foot or so wide.
Makelele attempted to join Mario Melchiot in the collectors’
item stakes for this week when he volleyed wide from 35
yards and then a Sparta dribble into our area was countered
with swift break that had Mutu stretching but just missing
out to the keeper in a race for the ball.
With 20 minutes to go, the time for changes did arrive.
Prague made one swap while Chelsea went for two – Geremi
replacing Cole and Crespo making way for Gudjohnsen. Diamonds
are forever though, or for this game at least, and the
team shape remained untouched.
Still Chelsea searched for inspiration and it has to be
said a Stamford Bridge crowd of 40,152 did little to provide
the spark. It appeared qualification was being taken for
Mutu was at least lively and a lovely reverse pass of
his let in Lampard but last ditch tackles snuffed out
the shooting chance. Then with ten minutes to go the woodwork
was dirtied again.
Geremi produced the first free-kick of the night with
venom, driving towards the far-post from the left. John
Terry rose and met it firmly, heading back across the
face of the net. As William Gallas stooped in a valiant
attempt to head in, the ball skimmed his knee and then
skimmed the face of the post.
Sparta had upped the tempo of their passing in the closing
stages and played a few hopeful balls forward but the
pace of Gallas and the aerial power of Terry, plus diligent
covering from Melchiot and Bridge kept things comfortably
The draw we needed looked well within reach, the only
question being whether the win could be dug out to ease
our way to finishing top of the group.
Duff tricked his way through and tried to find Mutu but
as the ball was cleared Lampard was brought down 20 yards
out. Geremi’s free-kick was a couple of yards over with
the keeper covering.
Then with stoppage time beginning came the moment that
should have wrapped things up. A quick counter began and
Duff passed inside to Gudjohnsen in the centre-circle.
Mutu timed his break to perfection and Gudjohnsen judged
his through ball equally well.
The racing Romanian drove on, steadied himself, but to
everyone’s astonishment shot someway wide. Plenty of chance
to make amends in four days time!