Early Doors: A transient triumph for Chelsea

Early Doors


However, it also felt like a rather temporary fix, a sticking plaster over a deep wound.

There was almost painfully obvious symbolism in the fact that it was John Terry, Didier Drogba and, in particular, Frank Lampard who scored the goals to take the game to extra time before Branislav Ivanovic popped up to secure a 4-1 victory and ensure England would have a representative in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The three most powerful members of a dressing room that Andre Villas-Boas had tried to subdue and reshape had issued a staunch rebuttal to their critics. If the first leg - with Lampard exiled to the bench and Terry out injured - became a repudiation of the former manager's authority then this was a validation of the dressing room, at least in the short term.

But while it may not have felt like it as Stamford Bridge reverberated to the sound of joyous supporters, Early Doors can't help but conclude there was ultimately something rather transient about last night's triumph.

It is quite clear this squad will not dominate European football for years to come - Drogba, who was largely fantastic, aside from an attempt to emulate Sergio Busquets with some blatant playacting, is now 34, for one.

The deep-seated issues that Villas-Boas tried to address - only to be fatally compromised by his inability to marry results with philosophy - remain. Chelsea's squad are old and rather slow. They still need a fresh approach.

However, they may yet enjoy success that Villas-Boas could not have conjured himself, and Chelsea's senior players deserve much credit for a fantastic performance and result, even if the club are still searching for a long-term vision.

In that respect, what the victory said about caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo was somewhat less clear.

Early Doors was reminded of suggestions that, following Jose Mourinho's departure, it was Chelsea's senior players who called the shots under short-term replacement Avram Grant. That the run to the Champions League final of 2008 was in spite of, rather than because of, the Israeli.

Despite his exuberant celebrations at the final whistle as he leapt, Mourinho-like, around the Stamford Bridge pitch before bear-hugging Drogba and Fernando Torres, this result has been painted not as a success for the Italian, but his senior players.

It is almost as though he was an innocent bystander, rather than a manager who masterminded a 4-1 victory over a technically excellent and tactically astute Napoli side that had won six games in succession prior to last night.

The cult of the dressing room clearly still pervades at Chelsea and Di Matteo's influence on the result was somewhat marginalised, not least due to the actions of his captain.

After his substitution on 98 minutes, it was hard to escape the conclusion that, with the removal of AVB, Terry had spotted the chance to get some on-the-job training as he eyes up a managerial role at the end of his playing days.

Those who believe Terry considers himself to be a de facto manager in any case were greeted with the hilarious sight of him bellowing tactical instructions from behind Di Matteo as Chelsea sought to secure their place in the quarter-finals.

It was also instructive when, on Tuesday, he held a wide-ranging and illuminating pre-match press conference. With Di Matteo sat at his side, Terry fielded the majority of questions, addressing accusations of player power, the job "Robbie" had in front of him and the relationship with "Roman", as he refers to the club's billionaire owner.

ED was half expecting Terry to express an interest in Eden Hazard or tell John Obi Mikel he needed to buck his ideas up if he wanted a new contract.

Terry has always considered himself to be a leader of men - there's nothing wrong with that of course, and he has proven himself to be very effective in this respect in the past - but he can let his inflated sense of authority get away from him on occasion.

ED is thinking specifically of that famous press conference at the World Cup when he rather embarrassingly challenged the authority of Fabio Capello, only to crumble when it became clear he did not have the support of his team-mates.

Even when stripped of the national team armband (for the first time) it was as though Terry had internalised the chants of the Chelsea fans that protested "there's only one England captain". In his mind, it probably wasn't Steven Gerrard.

As he passed on tactical instructions from behind Di Matteo on Wednesday, it became clear that, despite his protestations, Terry does wield more influence than your average Premier League player. In Di Matteo, a former team-mate of course, he may have found a man who will indulge this aspect of his personality.

In fairness, it worked for Chelsea on Wednesday night, and the result probably justified Abramovich's decision to remove Villas-Boas, whatever the cost from a financial or PR perspective. The problem comes when Di Matteo's replacement is confronted with the same daunting prospect that Villas-Boas faced.

If Chelsea do win the Champions League this season, and that appears rather unlikely given the excellence of Barcelona and Real Madrid, it will represent the final flourish of a group of ageing players, rather than the beginning of a new dynasty.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game. For 50 years, we owned the game … We were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules, designed the pitches and everything else. Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said you're liars and they actually stole it. It was called FIFA. Fifty years later, another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more." - Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards puts his foot in it with a rather diplomatic potted history of football. Richards later slipped and fell into a water feature, proving that pride really does come before a fall.

FOREIGN VIEW: Hamburg striker Paolo Guerrero could face criminal charges for his violent tackle on Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich. Guerrero is currently serving an eight-match ban for the unprovoked lunge from behind on Ulreich as the keeper was shepherding the ball out of play by the corner flag. The Peruvian forward was shown a straight red card. Hamburg were three goals down in the home clash on March 3 at the time, and went on the lose 4-0. The city's chief prosecutor, Willhelm Moellers, revealed that several criminal complaints have been made to the authorities, and the case is being investigated.

COMING UP: Manchester United attempt to overturn a 3-2 deficit when visiting Athletic Bilbao for the second leg of their last-16 Europa League tie at 6pm. At 8.05pm, Manchester City host Sporting hoping to come back from a 1-0 loss in the first leg in Portugal. We also have live coverage of the games involving PSV Eindhoven and Valencia and Schalke and FC Twente.

For more coverage of Chelsea's fantastic performance we have an exclusive webchat with Tony Dorigo at 1pm, while Eurospot examines Republic of Ireland under Giovanni Trapattoni at lunch. We also bring you the second part of our exclusive interview with former Sunderland manager Steve Bruce.

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