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Usher: Crisis looming for Reds

Liverpool 31 minutes ago
Read
Mar 16, 2011

Strikers continue to struggle

"Chelsea won't go out against Copenhagen," Carlo Ancelotti, February 21, 2011.

And so the prophecy was fulfilled. But Carlo Ancelotti did not need to be a soothsayer to predict the outcome of this Champions League last-16 clash. The watching world had been readying themselves for the English champions' progress for the past fortnight and there was to be no underdog story for the Danish minnows, whose home defeat in the first leg left Wednesday's encounter at Stamford Bridge emanating that foulest of football stenches: inevitability.

Such was the feeling of improbability that FC Copenhagen could overturn their 2-0 first-leg deficit, Ancelotti's pre-match press conference focused little on the game itself, with queries about John Terry's England captaincy and a possible quarter-final battle with Barcelona dominating the agenda. That the Italian entertained the questions at all was an indication of his supreme confidence.

On Barcelona, Ancelotti's assertion was that they could be beaten with "strength and power", but against Copenhagen, all the Blues needed was patience. They were frustrated time and again by a resolute back four, marshalled superbly by Mathias Jorgensen, but Chelsea's biggest enemy was themselves.

With Fernando Torres rested, Didier Drogba was given a second successive start for the first time since the Spaniard's January arrival. And Chelsea's No. 11 looked as hungry as he has been all season in the first 45, peeling away from defenders with consummate ease and demonstrating some sublime touches. His lofted through-ball to Nicolas Anelka should have resulted in the Blues' opener, but the French striker misfired - not for the first or last occasion in the match.

Anelka missed a host of chances and looked a caricature of himself as he trundled off to be replaced by Torres in the second-half and 'Le Sulk' sat moodily on the bench for the rest of the game. Anelka may have been the chief culprit when it came to profligacy, but he has a plethora of partners in crime. Ramires, a central midfielder by trade, did his very best impression of a right-winger and got into some dangerous advanced positions, though his finishing brought groans from the Stamford Bridge faithful, who realised early on in his Chelsea career that finishing is not his forte.

Drogba, Cole, Terry and Lampard were also guilty of missing the target when presented with good opportunities and Copenhagen goalkeeper Johan Wiland's face graced many a European television set as he faced a barrage of attempts throughout the game. Torres was lively after his introduction, but his much-publicised goal drought now stretches to six games, leaving Wiland with a clean sheet to take back to Denmark with some pride. All that the Chelsea players will be returning to training with is the knowledge that a lengthy shooting session is in order. On the pitch that is.

Ancelotti admitted as much after the game: "It [a goal] was the only thing missing tonight - there was good spirit, lots of opportunities, good defence. I think the performance was good and I am happy with the team. We had a lot of opportunities to score and we need to be more precise up front, but to repeat: the performance was good. We have to improve, we had so many chances to score, we have to score goals, but we can improve in the next games."

Copenhagen's visit was Chelsea's 50th Champions League home match, but it will not live long in the Matthew Harding Stand's memory. It was a 15th draw rather than a 32nd victory for the Blues and, in truth, their opponents never looked likely to add their names to those of Lazio, Besiktas, Barcelona and Inter Milan - the only sides ever to record victories at Stamford Bridge in the competition.

Chelsea's 51st game could well be a rematch against the Catalans, whom Ancelotti labelled "the most dangerous team" left in the competition after Wednesday's game. But he refused to comment further on any preference for Friday's draw, stating that he was just happy to be in the quarter-finals after last year's disappointing last-16 exit to Inter and revealing that there would be a "fantastic party" to celebrate his side's progress.

Copenhagen also deserve to celebrate after a fantastic result, though in attack they showed all the rustiness of a side that has played just three games in three months. Blues' supporters spluttered nervously into their tea when Ndoye's powerful free-kick rattled Peter Cech's post from a first-half free-kick, but it was the only genuinely threatening moment for Stale Solbakken's charges in the entire 90 minutes.

After defeat at the Parken Stadium two weeks ago, Copenhagen subsequently lost 2-0 at FC Midtjylland and edged to a 1-0 win over rock bottom at AaB - hardly perfect preparation for a game of this magnitude. But they exit the competition having done their nation proud as the first side to reach the Champions League last-16 and can boast the furthest progress of a Danish club since Brondby reached the European Cup quarter-finals in 1986-87.

A humble Solbakken was understandably delighted by his players' efforts at the Bridge and expressed his belief that they could make a similar impact next year after a tough campaign.

"The first leg we struggled but the other seven games [apart from the first-leg defeat] have been brilliant for us and it has been a great experience," Solbakken said. "We just have to admit that we've lost to a better team. They are a little bit stronger in all areas but my players played to their best today. All in all, I'm very, very proud and I will congratulate Chelsea on their win.

"We had the toughest draw in the Champions League, playing the top seeds in qualifying and then Barcelona, Panathinaikos and Rubin Kazan, who were all champions of their countries. I can't see any reason why FC Copenhagen can't be a regular in the Champions League.''

A 19-point lead in their domestic league certainly suggests that a return to Champions League action will be in store for Copenhagen next season but, for now, they will have to make do with watching how much further their conquerors can progress.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Mathias Jorgensen Had Drogba scored, he may have pipped his marker to the post, but the centre-back was a colossus for Copenhagen. Yes, Chelsea created chances galore, but Jorgensen must be applauded for not allowing the West Londoners to have made even more, which could well have led to a rout. Strong in the air against the powerful Drogba, the Danish defender also made a number of last-ditch tackles, regularly thwarting the frustrated Anelka.

CHELSEA VERDICT: The Blues dominated from start to finish and mutterings of 'how did we not score?' will be heard across the London underground until Friday's draw, when a new topic of conversation will be on Chelsea supporters' lips. Drogba and Torres remain in dire need of a morale-boosting goal, though Ancelotti will take heart from the performance of Lampard, who looked to be approaching his best, seamlessly linking defence and attack and arriving late into the area. The Blues needed little exertion to move into the last eight, but should they face a team of Barcelona's ilk, a significantly improved display would be needed.

FC COPENHAGEN VERDICT: One of the greatest results in the club's history is of course overshadowed by their exit, but the Danes should be commended for what was a brave display. However, a realistic manager like Solbakken will be equally aware that the 0-0 scoreline perhaps owed a little more to Chelsea's ineptitude in front of goal than Copenhagen's defensive prowess.

DANISH DECIBELS: Quite simply, the FC Copenhagen fans were immense. Certainly the loudest away crowd I have ever heard in the Champions League, the Danes created a deafening wall of sound and from the press box it would have been easy to mistake them for the home side's fans - not only because of their noise levels but their excellent grasp of English chants.

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