Champions League Round of 16 Review – Part 3

by Ger McCarthy

Chelsea recorded a comfortable 2-0 win in Denmark while Real Madrid surrendered a late goal in France as both of Tuesday night’s Champions League Round of 16 ties failed to sparkle writes Back Page Football contributor Ger McCarthy.

Round of 16, First leg
Parken Stadion, Copenhagen
FC Copenhagen 0 Chelsea 2

After all the pre-match talk about Chelsea’s line-up and whether Carlo Ancellotti would select Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres up front it was left  to the forgotten striker at Stamford Bridge, Nicolas Anleka, to net a brace of goals and secure a richly deserved 2-0 win for Chelsea over FC Copenhagen.

In a Round of 16 tie that was played in freezing temperatures the home side looked leaden footed from the opening whistle. A recent winter break (since December 7th) from the Danish Premier League looked to have done little to aid Copenhagen as Chelsea began confidently with full-backs Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa pushing forward at the earliest opportunity.

Anelka began up front with Torres while Drogba warmed the bench and the new-look Chelsea forward line looked eager to impress although the Londoners laboured to break down their opponents defence for long periods. Copenhagen were guilty of giving Chelsea too much respect and allowing the visitors far too much time on the ball to dictate the pace of a low standard game. The opening goal eventually arrived in the 17th minute as Chelsea made the most of some appalling approach play from a former winger. Jesper Gronkjaer released a pass down the left wing but didn’t bother to look to see if a Copenhagen player was available. Anelka seized in the start pass and powered into the home side’s penalty area before beating goalkeeper Wiland with a straightforward shot.

The Danish side’s decision to employ a high defensive line almost came unstuck on a number of occasions and Chelsea really should have added to their total. A combination of poor Chelsea finishing and a lazy final pass allowed Copenhagen stumble to half time just a single goal behind despite playing second fiddle to the Premier League side for the majority of the opening half.

Martin Vingaard’s introduction during the interval immediately galvanised Copenhagen back into life with the Danish international forcing the previously untroubled Peter Cech into a smart save. Vingaard had a second opportunity moments later but wasted his effort by chipping straight at Cech when the Copenhagen player had ample time to take the ball down and strike a much better effort.

The home side’s fight back proved short-lived when Chelsea doubled their lead in the 52nd minute. Frank Lampard had time and space to pick out the in-rushing Anelka with a peach of a pass as the entire Copenhagen defence moved towards Torres. The former French international striker made no mistake with a predatory finish to send the travelling supporters into wild celebrations.

The remainder of a one-sided game saw Chelsea comfortably see out the first leg and end deserving 2-0 winners. The most interesting aspect of the second half was the performance of Fernando Torres who put in an eye-catching display which will have pleased his manager and club owner. All that was missing from Torres’ performance was a goal and although the former Liverpool No. 9 missed a plethora of chances his movement and work off the ball suggests that elusive first strike in Chelsea colours is not far away.

Last Word

Chelsea produced no more than a workmanlike but professional performance after John Terry’s call to his team mates to ‘man up’ earlier in the week. The Premier League side’s task was made easy by a pathetic Copenhagen display who were clearly lacking the match sharpness required at this level following an extended winter break from their domestic league.

Anelka’s brace will have pleased Carlo Ancellotti but the performance of Fernando Torres will grab most of tomorrow’s headlines as the Spanish international striker looks only a game or two away from that old sharpness which saw him terrorise defences whilst in Liverpool colours.

A 2-0 first leg lead already has Chelsea as odds on favourites to make it through to the quarter finals.

Round of 16, First leg
Stade de Gerland, Lyon
Olympique Lyonnais 1 Real Madrid 1

A Bafetimbi Gomis strike 7 minutes from full time earned Olympique Lyonnais a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in the Stade de Gerland on Tuesday night. The opening half hour had little in the way of incident apart from Lyon’s – who began without the services of the injured star striker Lopez –lone front-man Gomis walloping an effort high and wide when well placed. As for Real the visitors looked comfortable in possession, without ever threatening, despite the probing runs of Ronaldo.

Adebayor cut a forlorn figure up front for Madrid and it was 30 minutes before Lloris in the Lyon goal was properly tested with DiMaria forcing the goalkeeper into a fine save following a daisy-cutter from long range. Gomis wasted another opportunity towards the end of the first half when Casillas spilled a cross only for the Lyon striker to blaze wildly over the bar once again.

Jose Mourinho’s half time team talk had the desired affect with Real looking a different team following the resumption of the second half. Ronaldo thumped a glorious free-kick off the upright before Ramos thudded a header against the crossbar following good approach play from Ozil.

The introduction of Benzema for the ineffectual Adebayor reaped immediate dividends for Mourinho in the 65th minute when the French international striker broke the deadlock with a fine individual strike only seconds after coming on. Former Lyon striker, Benzema, linked brilliantly with Ronaldo on the edge of the home side’s penalty box before slaloming past a couple of  defenders and neatly placing the ball into the net beyond Lloris for 1-0 Madrid lead.

Lyon had little option but to throw caution to the wind and threw greater numbers forward in search of a late leveller. The French side were rewarded for their attacking endeavour with an equaliser in the 83rd minute. Real failed to deal with a Lyon free-kick and when Cris headed on Gomis was on hand to atone for his earlier misses and flick the ball past Casillas to earn Lyon a 1-1 draw.

Last Word

Despite conceding a late equaliser Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho will be delighted to have grabbed an away goal before the second leg in the Bernabeu in a fortnight’s time. Real had failed to win any of their 6 previous meetings with Lyon so a draw looks a good result considering Madrid had also failed to register a goal on French soil in their last 3 attempts.

Lyon are by no means out of the tie but will need to raise their performance considerably when they visit Madrid for the second leg. As of now Jose Mourinho’s side look set to put the disappointment of previous European campaigns behind them and – barring disaster – go through to the last eight of this season’s Champions League.

Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

1 Response

  1. Ad says:

    I find it ridiculous how there seems to be so much bitterness around Karim Benzema and Jose Mourinho’s relationship.

    I don’t follow Spanish football as closely as I would like but I understand Mourinho has a strange reluctance to pick Benzema and has been looking to replace him for a while now.

    Why, I ask? Having read up I understand that Benzema has been in fine scoring form in the Champions League and has shown that he is a perfect deputy for the injured Gonzalo Higuain.

    Is it an attitude thing? Has he struggled to settle in Spain? I’ve always rated Benzema as a top quality striker, so I really don’t understand why there is so much negativity surrounding his Real Madrid career….

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