Maybe that’s being unduly harsh on the Blues and uncharitable to Juventus, but it is unforgivable for the champions of Europe playing at home to give up a golden opportunity to silence the doubters. Forget Falcao’s flamboyant hat-trick that sunk Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup; this is a Blues side rejuvenated with arguably the choicest signings of the summer and ideally suited to be campaigning on multiple fronts. And if anyone at Stamford Bridge – in Blue or otherwise – is patting himself on the back for having drawn Italian giants Juventus 2-2, perhaps Chelsea have already set their sights a bit lower this season.
Italy’s Old Lady playing Chelsea’s irreverent young guns, turned out to be quite the entertainer. Which was apparently quite surprising to a lot of people who expected these two sides schooled in the dark arts of defense would shut each other out and drop TV ratings so fast it would make advertisers’ heads spin. A draw was certainly on the cards, 1-1 some pundits offered helpfully. Others were even more confident that a prehistoric Pirlo, that eternal master of the midfield would put a seemingly even older Lampard in his place and then spank Hazard and Oscar for even daring to play in the same time zone as he was.
In the end, the two sides dished out quite a rollicking fare of seesawing fortunes and nervous moments. Despite a bright start from the Italians, Chelsea’s young blood showed scant respect to Juventus’ pedigree as Oscar and Hazard learned to reduce Pirlo’s influence to an afterthought. By the fifth minute, it was clear Chelsea weren’t the only side with defensive woes. With the Italians looking shiftier in defense than a kid trying to sneak candy past the checkout counter (insert hackneyed reference to Juventus’ kit looking like something a barcode scanner would pick up), Chelsea were soon hounding Conte’s men for the lion’s share of possession.
As Chelsea racked up the corners, it became evident that the West London preference for quicker nimble-footed stars had come at a heavy price. There was simply no longer the muscle to head balls into goal off the corners. In the 21st minute it looked like Chelsea would pay the price for that, when Marchisio rampaged through half the Chelsea squad in a bid to meet a long ball. With Chelsea’s aerial dominance all but extinct, Marchisio found little in the way of obstacles as Chelsea’s famed defense ushered him within striking distance. Fortunately, Claudio Marchisio had things other than scoring on his mind as he clumsily let Cech have the final say.
Chelsea would pull one back in the department of infuriating misses as Ramires, who was until then Chelsea’s most threatening player on the field, tried to bluff his way past Buffon far too many times before offering Fernando Torres the honors. Ramires who’s been known to score spectacular goals just as much as he’s been known to miss open invitations to bury his shots ended up passing the buck.
As Juventus tried to make their presence felt at Cech’s end, Chelsea finally came to life with two outstanding relatively long-range efforts from the precocious Oscar. Once again Hazard had picked the right man for the right moment as the young Brazilian opened the scoring with a 25-yard effort. But before it could sink in, Chelsea’s newest midfield sensation announced his arrival once again in case you’d missed it the first time around. It isn’t easy getting past Buffon from short range, it’s even harder when Buffon has 20 yards to see the ball come at him. Which is why Oscar’s goals are spectacular and deserved a victory to their credit.
Chelsea’s usually reliable John Terry proceeded to let his team down today, as the Blues’ defense failed to mount a coherent or concerted effort at keeping this Italian side undefeated in 42 games. Another stalwart, Frank Lampard this time, gifted Vidal an eternity with the ball before he sent the ball darting between John Terry’s legs. As the ball touched the back of Chelsea net, it was suddenly and unexpectedly game on again, just before half time.
It would not have been lost on di Matteo that had Chelsea preserved its 2 goal lead heading into the break, they might have had a better shot at winning the game. Instead, the Blues had yet again left the door ajar to a resilient if not superior opposition. Ramires and Oscar being substituted might have conceded the Italians just too much of a breathing space up front.
Hazard had a penalty shout turned down after a clumsy Barzagli sent him sprawling. The referee’s miserliness with awarding penalties may have been an issue in a game of bigger consequences, but is likely to blow over no matter how aggrieved di Matteo and Hazard feel about it. Torres had another admittedly optimistic appeal for a penalty turned down as he went down at the edge of the box. All that was soon put aside just before the 80th minute, as Hazard and Mata put their immense talents to good combination and nearly left Juventus convulsing in dread at the back. Mata’s effort only managed to shear the side netting, as Chelsea failed to deliver the killer blow.
Lessons come painfully quick these days, as Fabio Quagliarella drew the Italian champions level with a late equalizer thanks to Obi Mikel whose usefulness to the team swings wildly like a pendulum on steroids. The substitute would nearly embarrass Chelsea again, with just minutes left before injury time, but Chelsea’s most reliable defender lately – the goal post – foiled him at the last minute.
The Blues held on, seemingly content to prove the pundits right that a draw would be all this game would offer. But it was, at the end of the day, Chelsea’s game to win. That the Blues chose to surrender a two goal lead in tame fashion and then breathe a collective sigh of relief, is a worrying sign. Not many believed Chelsea would win the Champions League last season. On the back of this performance, it seems The Blues don’t think they’ll win this season’s.