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Houston Dynamo
12:00 AM UTC May 29, 2017
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The real Cheslea stands up

When you have spent so long doing everything possible to make your manager look like a fool, it must be difficult to flick the switch and return to your best.

Several members of the Chelsea squad have spent much of this season trying to undermine the efforts of Luiz Felipe Scolari, so the departure of the Brazilian coach earlier this month could only be viewed as a reward for all their hard work.

While most of us have had spells when we have not been in full agreement with our boss, publically under performing in a bid to oust him from his post is the ultimate act of treachery and as Chelsea snapped into tackles and piled the pressure on Juventus in the opening exchanges of this Champions League tie, it seemed as if their instant transformation would expose them as back-stabbers of the highest order.

Take Didier Drogba. He started this game looking determined to become a world beater all over again. Showing levels of commitment he rarely exuded in the Scolari days, this was a footballer who had put his toys back in his designer pram and decided to get back to work again. How good of him to earn his reported £80,000-a-week wage packet all over again.

Apparently willing to chase lost causes and belatedly ready to place the good of the team ahead of his considerable ego, Drogba was doing his best to make new boss Guus Hiddink look like a magician as he threatened to overwhelm Juventus with a powerful display at the head of the Chelsea side.

Maybe the sound of the Champions League anthem had sent a shiver down the spine of a player who disgraced himself as he was sent off in the Final of this competition last May, but you suspected Drogba's passion would not have been evident if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had not fired yet another coach and replaced him with one who was willing to forgive him for his disruptive antics this season.

In the end, Drogba could claim to be the hero on the night as his goal secured a 1-0 victory, but this was not a convincing Chelsea display against a Juventus side who dominated for much of the second half. On this evidence, Hiddink will appreciate the road to Rome in May will be bumpy unless they improve dramatically on this display.

Wednesday evening started with the curious sight of an old Chelsea manager receiving a much healthier ovation than the man new to the post. Hiddink's name produced a polite round of applause when it was announced by Chelsea's over-excited on-pitch rabble-rouser, yet the noise level moved up a few levels when he mentioned the name of Ranieri.

Owner Roman Abramovich may not appreciate the notion that football folk tend to get quite attached to men who give their all to a club, yet Blues fans don't forget the contribution made by the Italian. Always affable and often comical, even if he didn't know he was, Ranieri's broken English press briefings and unlikely team selections earned him a place in the hearts of many.

Back in Ranieri's days, the Chelsea Tzar simply couldn't understand why his money was not bringing instant success, yet the unprofessional and shoddy handling of the Italian's departure infuriated his admirers. Typically, the man who was well paid to say little when he was sacked has kept his dignity intact ever since and only ever offers a 'thank you' to Abramovich for giving him the chance to manage his first Blues team.

Privately, you suspect he would gain plenty of satisfaction if he were to end Abramovich's Champions League dreams for another season and a tie many expected to be tight and cagy started in a frantic fashion. In many ways, the initial exchanges were way too open for Ranieri's men.

Drogba gave Juve warning that he has rediscovered his appetite for the game by nearly converting Jose Bosingwa's cross with a diving header in the eighth minute before he confirmed his old diving antics are still part of his repertoire as he tumbled in the box. Excellent Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca was not buying his antics and waved away his penalty appeals.

We didn't have to wait long to see the best of Drogba as he latched onto Salomon Kalou's delicious through ball and lashed the ball past Gianluigi Buffon. His delight as he opened the scoring said all we needed to know about the improved mood of the moody Ivory Coast hit-man.

There could have been more pain for Ranieri as Drogba managed to miss a free header in the box moments later and after just 15 minutes, it seemed as if the gulf in class between the Premier League and Serie A would be exposed again.

However, Juve showed they had more stomach for the fight than an Inter Milan side who were comprehensively outplayed by Manchester United on Tuesday night and Alessandro Del Piero so nearly equalised as he forced a fine save out of Petr Cech in the 22nd minute.

After that, the tie was thrown into the balance and as the second half hurried along at a hectic pace, Juventus were the side most likely to score the game's second goal as they piled plenty of pressure on Hiddink's backline.

The evergreen Pavel Nedved so nearly gave Juve a deserved draw as his deflected shot flew inches wide in injury time. From our position in the press seats, his effort appeared to be what would have been a vital away goal as it hit the posts holding up the netting and rolled along the back of the goal.

As it was, Hiddink could be content with his lot as he collected his second cup win as Chelsea manager. "We started the game well in the first 20 minutes, but Juventus came back at us so well," stated the Dutchman. "Let's be honest and accept we suffered a lot in the closing stages of this game. We lost control of the game and that is something we have to work on. They are a tough side to play against and it will not be easy in the second leg."

Ranieri's appearance in the Stamford Bridge press room was a blast from the past for us hacks who used to enjoy his contributions during his stint in charge a Chelsea and he was as optimistic as ever as he answered questions from familiar faces. "This is not a terrible result for us and we can be confident of winning in Turin after this performance," he stated. "I thank all the fans for the fantastic reception I received. It was wonderful for my heart and my mind."

Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari are among the growing band of ex-Chelsea managers who can point to the negative contribution of Didier Drogba for their failure to bring glory to the Stamford Bridge club. Guus Hiddink can be grateful he only needs this unpredictable football enigma to stay on his side for the next couple of months.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Pavel Nedved
At the age of 36, Juventus' Czech midfielder bossed this game in the second half and he so nearly scored a crucial goal late on.

PRESS ROOM MAYHEM: The visit of an Italian team to an English ground seems to attract hoards of press men and women from Italy. This was no exception as they shouted and screamed at each other all night.

JUVENTUS VERDICT: Italian sides have faltered against English sides in the Champions League this week, but Juve showed they can be a match for Chelsea. Claudio Ranieri can consider his return to Stamford Bridge to have been a success.

CHELSEA VERDICT: A clean sheet was the most significant point for Chelsea on a night when their Champions League dream could have easily faded. The return in Turin will require their stars to stand up and be counted. With that in mind, it is a good job Luiz Felipe Scolari is back home in Brazil.


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