Chelsea needed to win this to ensure qualification and given their recent home form, it would not have been surprising if they had spent the last few days wishing this was an away tie. In the end the Blues finally won again at home, but it wasn’t easy and Chelsea are still far far from their best at home.
Nothing much happened for the first twenty minutes or so, with Chelsea lacking any real rhythm and Cluj making sporadic forward runs with little effect. Then Chelsea (minus Frank Lampard) settled down and started keeping possession of the ball. Mikel was instrumental in controlling play and they passed it around rather well, always falling flat when the ball reached the opposition box.
Defensively they were not tested too much. Bosingwa, a good player prone to a lapse per game, lost the ball dangerously once and then a moment of communication breakdown between Ashley Cole and Bosingwa (I think) led to a dangerous cross from wide right from the Argentine Culio which led to a bad decision from Cech which needed a goal-line clearance from Mikel before Chelsea could breathe again. Pereira was allowed to shoot speculatively a couple of times and I say allowed because the Chelsea back line tended to stay deep without looking to close down the Cluj attackers.
Cluj were efficient and always in position, allowing Chelsea to pass but not penetrate. They had a defensive approach but were not averse to attacking and they build their attacks down the flanks by playing in neat triangles involving three players.
Kalou, got the Chelsea opener but he should thank John Terry for it. Three Cluj defenders jumped on Terry while trying to defend a lobbed free kick from the right and in doing so let the ball drop to an unmarked Kalou. In true Kalou style, he swung at it and missed but the ball dropped favorably and he had enough time and little difficulty in sending the second effort to the back of the net.
And that really was all there was to talk about in the first half. None of the Chelsea players could have been given high ratings and it was typical of their last umpteen home performances – good play with little impact. Lampard was missed, especially when half chances to shoot were not being taken, but most importantly, they seemed to have surplus resources in midfield. The situation was crying out for a 4-4-2.
Chelsea came out and played some beautiful football. They would have got something from it too, but for Claro in the Cluj goal who stopped a bullet from Anelka. And then against the tide, in the blink of an eye Cluj equalized. It was a brilliant goal. Quick passing and movement to leave the left back reeling and a brilliant cross finished equally brilliantly leaving Cech with no chance. Maybe Alex could be blamed for not dealing with the cross, but then it was placed perfectly and there’s only so much that even a well-paid defender can do.
Stunned, Chelsea laid the siege again and again they lost to Claro, who saved brilliantly when Joe Cole seemed certain to finish. Scolari waited 65 minutes before going 4-4-2. My pick for player to be substituted would have been Ballack, who was the least impressive on the night, but out went Kalou and in came Didier Drogba.
Immediately Chelsea looked more threatening and they started using route one to get the ball into the opposition ox, but we know all that… that is exactly what Drogba does. But it was his finish which drilled home the point that he is a superstar in this team of superstars. So many times in the evening we had seen players take that fraction of a second longer to get into position and the moment to score had passed. I’m dropping names like Deco, Ballack, Joe Cole, Anelka etc. who all could have scored had they the speed of lightning. But they didn’t and that takes nothing away from them.
But then Mikel found Joe Cole in some space who lobbed it to Drogba who was charging towards goal. Before you knew it the ball was in the back of the net. In no time at all, the guy trapped the ball had it neatly on his feet and drilled a power shot before anyone could say whoa!
Cluj bow out with heads held high and players on display. Claro, Panin, Trica, Dani, Culio, Pereira and the goal scorer Yssouf Kone all succeeded in creating an impression. For Chelsea it was job done and relief but life will not get any easier for Scolari.
Anelka is a class act but even he is no Drogba. And with Lampard back in contention and after some time Essien as well, he will have a tough time keeping everyone happy.
Personally I would like to see them play with two strikers (4-4-2). Essien, Deco, Ballack and Lampard present themselves as the obvious midfield but this would mean sacrificing width. Then again Joe Cole is too good to be sitting on the bench for long and ditto Mikel (what a performance he gave last night). It’s not easy being Scolari. The paycheck would be helpful of course!