Sunday, 25 March 2012

Chelsea, Champions of Europe? Maybe you aren't having a laugh

'Knife-edge' is the term that defines Chelsea's Champions League campaign this season. The team seems to be on a mission to do things the hard way. Good entertainment value, but not for the weak of heart (Then again, I doubt any Chelsea fan has a weak heart after what's happened to us in Europe in the last few years)

After losing to Leverkusen in the penultimate game of the group stage, Chelsea needed to beat Valencia, a strong Valencia, to be sure of progressing to the knockouts. Beat them they did, and how. Not the close game that was expected but a big win, a 3-0 scoreline. Qualification from the group stage was achieved on a knife-edge.

Taking the lead at Naples only to gift Napoli goals and lose 3-1, Chelsea's big names turned on the heat at Stamford Bridge to produce a most extraordinary 4-1 win after extra time.The same faces, that couldn't have looked more forlorn after Ezequiel Lavezzi's sealer in Naples, couldn't have looked more joyful after Ivanovic's emphatic winner. Progression from the Round of 16 was achieved on a knife-edge.

That result came in the midst of a run of wins that put real wind in Chelsea's sails for the first time this year. Roberto di Matteo had helped the team turn the corner and (for now, anyway) saved the season.

A loss and a draw in the league, however, have flattened that momentum a little bit. A goalless draw at home to Spurs wasn't the ideal result Chelsea needed heading into a tough run of fixtures. The result means that Chelsea's place among the Premier League's top 4 (and by association, next season's Champions League) is now highly uncertain. (No doubt we'll manage it in the end. On a knife-edge.)

The path leading to the hallowed trophy, however, is anything but uncertain. Benfica, beyond them Barcelona, and beyond that, most likely Real Madrid. It certainly looks beyond Chelsea, but then again that was what everyone thought about the Napoli tie as well. After weeks of looking lost and bereft of imagination culminated in defeat at Naples, Chelsea's seniors pulled off one of Europe's biggest comebacks at home to progress. A few more such performances from the old guard, and who knows, Chelsea might just do it.

On a knife-edge.

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