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Mourinho’s dramatic touchline sprint was flash of genius not a triumphant celebration by manager who is now ‘simply the best’

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There was a Jose Mourinho banner at Stamford Bridge tonight that said “Simply the Best” – and after watching Chelsea’s epic fightback to knock Paris St Germain out of the Champions League it is hard to disagree.

When substitute Demba Ba scored his decisive late winner that took the Blues into the last four, the Portuguese manner sprinted down the touchline in a celebration reminiscent of his defining arrival on the global stage when Porto toppled Manchester United in the same competition a decade ago.

Last time we saw an ecstatic Mourinho race miles out of his technical area the game was effectively over with Porto landing a dramatic injury time winner.

by John GubbaThis time there were crucial minutes left and Mourinho clearly bent the rules to pass on all-important tactical direction to his jubilant players. But that only underlines the brilliance of the Blues inspirational boss, whatever PSG may think. This was him doing everything possible to ensure Chelsea held on to go through on away goals by virtue of a 2-0 home win that made it 3-3 on aggregate.

At the end of a week where pundits have been debating which Merseyside boss is the best in the Premier League, following outstanding seasons so far for Brendan Rogers at Liverpool and Everton’s new talisman Roberto Martinez a global audience witnessed why Mourinho is the No.1.

After securing a fifth successive season in the Champions League semi-finals, this time with Chelsea, the master tactician said it all when he explained his touchline sprint was “not to celebrate but to tell Fernando (Torres) and Demba the changes we had to do because we still had three minutes to play and injury time.”

At times his body language this season has looked beaten and lacking passion. But this was a rejuventated Mourniho back at the top of his game.

Many of us poked fun when he was passed over by Manchester giants United and City and returned to the Bridge in the summer, despite his instance that this is the job he loves. Since then Arsene Wenger has watched his title hopes crumble at Arsenal and David Moyes has underachieved in his first season in succession of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Fergie is the greatest British manager we have ever seen. But Mourinho is still making history and staking his claim to be judged alongside the greats.

Right now he is both the “Special One” and the “Happy One” as TV footage beamed around the world of football will rightly underline.

What Mourinho said when he returned to the Stamford Bridge hotseat

1,000-up Wenger richly deserves tribute from Sir Alex Ferguson whatever maverick Mourinho says about Arsenal legend

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The day Old Trafford fell in love with the professor - The Arsenal manager was sent to the stands on 29 August 2009

I don’t care which team you support, anyone who loves the beautiful game owes a huge thank you to long-serving Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

Whatever Jose Mourinho may think or say, deep down even Chelsea’s maverick manager surely respects the outstanding contribution Wenger has made to the Premier League.

When the two men come face to face in the dugout at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Wenger will be taking charge of his 1,000th match as manager of the Gunners.

It is an outstanding record that looked an impossible dream three seasons ago when his team were crushed 8-2 by Manchester United. It was a result that sparked a barrage of abuse from fans and so-called experts who called for his head. The way the man affectionately known as the professor has stuck to his guns and turned the cirtics around speaks volumes for his character.

by John GubbaDespite consistently losing his best players – Henry, Fabregas and most recently Robin van Persie – Wenger has never abandoned his purist principles in search of a winning formula based on an attractive passing game. For much of this season his team defied the odds by heading the Premier League, boosted by the outstanding early season form of Aaron Ramsey and new record signing Mezut Ozil.

The recent dip in form that has seen tomorrow’s rivals Chelsea take up the running at the top, last month prompted Mourinho to describe Wenger as a “specialist in failure” after the Frenchman commented that anyone ruling themselves out of the title race was doing so out of a fear of falling short – a clear jibe at his opposite number at Chelsea.

It all adds extra spice to the latest Chelsea-Arsenal showdown, a fixture that has been dominated by the Blues during Wenger’s resign with just four wins in 18 attempts home and away.

But the real achievement by Wenger has been the way he has changed the history of the club he has managed for close on 18 seasons. Not just with his trophy haul but by re-branding the Gunners image from ‘boring, boring Arsenal” to one of the most attractive sides in European football.

Many fans were asking “Arsene who?” when Wenger was appointed manager on 30 September 1996. But the Frenchman is now hailed the club’s best ever  manager and his 2003-04 Arsenal side were named the greatest in Premier League history after going for the entire season unbeaten, leading to their nickname The Invincibles.

Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal spans 17 top-four finishes, 16 consecutive Champions League campaigns, two doubles, three Premier League titles, four FA Cup triumphs and six Community Shield appearances. So far his 999 games in charge have delivered  572 victories . . .  a win percentage of 57.3.

Mourino described Wenger as "specialist in failure"

Mourino described Wenger as “specialist in failure”

Critics will point to the nine year trophy drought that prompted Mourinho to muse: “I admire him and I admire Arsenal, because it’s not possible to have 1,000 matches unless the club is also a fantastic club in the way they support the manager, especially in the bad moments and especially when the bad moments were quite a lot.”

Wenger’s legacy – and there is no reason why he can’t carry on for a few more years – is that he  has become synonymous with the club, their move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium and their brand of passing football.

The harsh reality of modern day football is that Arsenal’s lack of silverware for nearly a decade leaves fans divided between those who still trust Wenger to deliver and those who have lost patience with his methods. But let us all pay the Frenchman the respect he deserves as he reached his 1,000 match milestone. The fact that he becomes only the fourth manager in English football to join this exclusive club, along with Dario Gradi and Manchester United legends Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, tells you what a remarkable achievement this is.

Fitting then to leave the final word to Sir Alex because the pair, now friends, had an intense rivalry that included five years when they were not on speaking terms after a match at Old Trafford in October 2004 ended a record 49 match unbeaten run by Arsenal.

“I congratulate Arsene in reaching this momentous landmark,” the Scot said in a statement issued on Friday by the League Managers Association.

“Having also reached the same milestone at one club, I cannot emphasise enough the level of dedication, resilience as well as sacrifice required and for that I have for the utmost admiration.

“Over the years we enjoyed some fantastic battles and you could say we had survived together and respected each other’s efforts to play good football. I always enjoy watching Arsene’s sides – Arsenal play the right way.”

Ferguson, who retired last year after 26 years at United, said playing against Arsenal always presented special challenges “that I burned many hours over the years thinking about. Perhaps the biggest compliment I could give Arsene is that I could never be anything other than competitive with my rival for 17 years.”

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Jose Mourinho is over-rated and over the hill: England’s finest Brian Clough was the original ‘Special One’!

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Old Big Head: The greatest manager England never had

Old Big Head: The greatest manager England never had

BY JOHN GUBBA

As a lover of the beautiful game, I will never forget the brilliance of Brian Clough, the man I regard as England’s greatest ever manager, who sadly passed away nine years ago today at the age of 69.

The man we used to affectionately call ‘Old Big Head” was the real deal, twice winning the European Cup with Nottingham Forest having previously made their equally unfashionable Midlands rivals Derby County English champions for the first time in their history.

Cloughie was the best manager England never had because the Football Associated lacked the character to appoint the outspoken boss to take charge of the national team. He should have been given the job when his nemesis Don Revie failed in 1977.

Clough was the original ‘Special One” and he knew it. He once famously declared: “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.”

What is more he achieved his glory without being bankrolled by a mega rich chairman and he did it with clubs with no previous history of being champions.

It ironic that self-publicist Jose Mourinho, Portugal’s poor man’s copy of the boss with the biggest head in football,is busy making excuses about the less than special start to his second spell in charge of Chelsea.

Happy or Special? Mourinho has lost his swagger  Copyright: visionsport TV

Happy or Special? Mourinho has lost his swagger Copyright: visionsport TV

Ever since Mourinho breezed into London and announced himself as “The Special One” he has had the British media in the palm of his hand because they love the way he provides a never-ending succession of headline grabbing sound bytes and headlines.

There is no doubt the late Sir Bobby Robson’s former interpreter has charisma and has been a brilliant tactician and motivator. But his current body language is a pale shadow of his former self.

Despite claiming otherwise, the truth is Mourinho was a failure at Real Madrid, where his critics say he was the worst manager in the club’s history.

Winning one La Liga title in three seasons, albeit with a record points total, was not enough to challenge the supremacy of Spanish rivals Barcelona in a League where there are only two real candidates.

He alienated the fans and his critics because he thought he was bigger than the club and his negative approach to the game was not good enough for the mighty Galacticos regardless of how many matches he won.

The pinnancle of his success came in 2010 when he guided Inter Milan to an unprecednted treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League. The style of play was not the most pleasing on the eye but his tactical brilliance and motivational skill that season was beyond question.

Five years earlier in his first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge he led Chelsea to their first League title in 50 years. It was the start of a trophy laden era that made him the most successful manager in the club’s history.

Unlike Clough, Mourinho’s triumphs have been bankrolled by the huge riches of mega wealthy owners. The exception came in his first success at Porto where he rose to prominence by winning the Champions League for Porto.

It was an outstanding achievement. But the truth is he was helped by a giant slice of luck when his side knocked out Manchester United by virtue of a shocking offside decision that ruled out a winning strike by Paul Scholes at Old Trafford.

Had it not been for that linesman raising his flag when Scholes was clearly onside, one wonders if Mourinho would ever have gone on to be given the platform of those top jobs at Chelsea, Milan and Madrid.

Now that he has tasted success and riches beyond his wildest dreams, there is the suspicion that he has lost the hunger and the drive to replicate his previous triumphs on his return to West London.

Mourinho blames the search for a new style for Chelsea’s poor form. “I don’t like the way Chelsea were playing in the last couple of years. The club doesn’t like it and we want to change,” he explains.

But in that period the Blues won the Champions League and recruited a dazzling collection of flair players including one of last year’s players of the season Juan Mata, who has been consistently marginalised by Mourinho.

The harsh reality is that this has been the club’s worst start to a Premier League season in the Roman Abramovich era. A humbling home defeat by Basle in the Champions League on Wednesday night has put the spotlight on the boss who started the season by re-christening himself ‘the Happy One” – a title that now sounds ridiculous.

Not just because Chelsea’s form is even worse than the sum total of their results. But you only have to look into the eyes of the disheveled boss who used to be the epitome of style. His confidence and swagger have currently deserted him and the pressure will quickly mount if he fails to live up to all the hype and expectation.

The brutal reality of Mourinho existing in the world of dictator Abramovich is that failure to emulate his previous achievements will see this latest chapter end in tears and acrimony. There is still time to repair the damage, but the aura of invincibility has already been blown away.

Premier League needs Jose Mourinho but it will be harder second time round at Chelsea for the Special One

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BY JOHN GUBBA

Jose Mourinho spoke from the heart on his return to Stamford Bridge when he declared: “I am sad that when I go back to Old Trafford Sir Alex will not be there any more.” Whether or not, that sentiment is tinged by any disappointment that he was not offered the chance to succeed Ferguson, the truth of the matter is that Chelsea’s new manager was summing up just why the Premier League needs him so badly.

Under the glare of the media spotlight it would be foolish to expect Mourinho to reveal any trace of remorse that it was David Moyes and not he who landed the top job at Old Trafford. And it was hard to defect any lack of sincerity when he insisted the Chelsea post is the one he really wanted because “it is my job.”

What can not be disputed is that Mourinho is priceless to the Premier League, even if he is unable to pick up where he left off last time around by locking horns with his old friend and foe Sir Alex Ferguson. The Glaswegian’s retirement merely underlines why the Portuguese maverick is so valuable to a League that has relied so heavily on the stature and gravitas of the departed Manchester United manager for so long.

Love him or hate him (and he has not been universally popular in Milan or Madrid), Mourinho is box office. Fergie has left a giant void that is near impossible to fill. But the returning Blues boss will do his best in his own special way and the media love him because his celebrity status embraces an even bigger audience than pure football enthusiasts. More than 250 of the world’s media witnessed his return this lunchtime at a press conference broadcast live on Sky TV and TalkSport – proof in itself that the self-appointed “Special One” who now calls himself “the Happy One” is a ratings winner.

Mourinho back in the spotlight at Stamford Bridge

Mourinho back in the spotlight at Stamford Bridge

Whether or not he can emulate the success of his first stint in charge, there is no question that the managerial merry-go-round – that has left Arsene Wenger as the last man standing with more than three years experience in a Premiership hot seat – desperately needs Mourinho on board.

What may come as a surprise to some is that this time around we are witnessing a much calmer, more measured, mature Mourinho. There is still a glint in the eye and a swagger that tells you this guy means business and life will never be dull while he is back at the Bridge. The English game definitely needs him. But the big question is ‘can he be successful second time around?’

In all honesty, it is hard to imagine Mourinho not winning silverware again. The difference this time is that expectations are higher than ever and the demands for instant results make it all the harder the longer it takes to deliver. Roman Abramovich has not been one to hang around whenever his managers fail to give him the trophies he insists upon and it would be interesting to see how the Russian copes if it takes time to re-gain the Premier League for example.

“In football, you never know, but I want to believe it’s possible,” Mourinho told the media hanging on his every word when asked if he could oversee a new era of glory.

This time there were no outrageous predictions or boasts, perhaps in anticipation that this time it will be much harder to exceed expectations. What was fascinating, however, was to witness the new Mourinho in action, dispelling myths and showing respect.

Avoiding barbed questions from journalists looking for a swipe at his former club Real Madrid, it was clear from the start of his second spell as Chelsea manager that this is a very different Mourinho. At 50 years old he is still young in management circles. But the brash upstart who achieved so much when he first breezed into the Capital nine years ago is now a much modified model. Not so easily sucked into delivering headline grabbing statements which will be frustrating for some.

Proving many of the so-called experts wrong, he resisted the opportunity to start the mind games early and take a swipe at any of his new rivals. On the contrary, he praised new United boss Moyes and  spoke highly of Manuel Pellegrini, the man destined to replace Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.  Equally, he refused to pass judgment on  his predecessor Rafa Benitez in a calm and measured performance that was respectful rather than provocative.

It was Mourinho the diplomat when he insisted reports that he fell out with Abramovich during his first spell at Stamford Bridge were wide of the mark. And it was encouraging  news for all Chelsea fans when he declared that he shares a common goal with the Russian “to succeed and have what this club wants which is stability.” Now that really would be something special for Blues fans.

 

Rafa Benitez will be sacked by Chelsea before end of the season: you can bet on it!

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How long before Rafa is waving goodbye?

BY JOHN GUBBA

Who would bet against Rafa Benitez getting the boot long before the end of his interim spell as Chelsea manager? In a job where winning does not guarantee you staying in the hot seat, there is surely little chance of the Spaniard avoiding the axe based on his shocking start to life as the Blues boss.

Benitez got his excuses in before his side surrendered the lead to crash 3-1 at West Ham when he explained his squad was tired. In an unsubtle dig at Roberto di Matteo, he said: ” I’m not here to criticise, but that’s the reality. We will be stronger as a team and a squad if we juggle them.” But blaming his popular predecessor for failing to rotate his squad will not protect him.

Ron Suart, in charge for just 31 games during the 1974-75 season, holds the ineviable record for being the permanent manager in charge for the shortest number of matches at Stamford Bridge. Not counting the single match caretaker role of Ray Wilkins, Gus Hiddink’s three months in temporary charge is the shortest reign under Abramovich. The Dutchman is the only manager to leave by his own choice. Benitez has indicated he would like to extend his 6 month deal. But his credibility has already been damaged after his first 3 matches have produced two goal-less draws and a hammering at Upton Park.

The irony here is that Roman Abramovich, perceived to be chasing the dream of bringing beautiful attacking football to West London, had it all under di Matteo who, since delivering both the Champions League (below) and the FA Cup, was starting to turn on the style when Chelsea hit the top of the Premier League at the start of the season.

The reality is that Chelsea are now saddled with a £50 million striker well past his best in Fernando Torres and a manager who one suspects is also in decline. He may have a contract as interim boss until the end of the season. But Blues fans will never accept the former Liverpool boss, even if he does achieve something at Chelsea, which already looks doubtful. And as we all know the only thing a contract with Abramovich guarantees is a pay-off because the Russian is always liable to wake up one day, click his fingers and send Benitez back to the job centre.

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Whether or not it was cynical ploy to discredit Mark Clattenburg, why Chelsea will almost certainly find themselves in the dock

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BY JOHN GUBBA

When it comes to tackling racism, Chelsea Football Club have a lot to learn – but that is not the reason there is a feeling within the game that the Premier League leaders have overstepped the mark in the Mark Clattenburg saga.

By destroying the reputation of one of the most experienced officials in the game with accusations that appear to be backed up by little evidence – and more than a suggestion of sour grapes after losing at home to Manchester United – the West London club have not only once again trashed football’s image, but their actions will have consequences.

ArseneWenger: Chelsea wrong to make Mark Clattenburg allegations public

Arsene Wenger: Chelsea wrong to make Mark Clattenburg allegations public

Arsene Wenger was first to question the way Chelsea publicly accused the referee of racially abusing John Obi Mikel during Sunday’s 3-2 defeat by declaring the accusations should have been dealt with privately. And Sir Alex Ferguson has weighed in by stating he is “convinced” the official is innocent

United’s boss insisted: “I don’t believe Mark Clattenburg would make any comments like that. I refuse to believe it. I think it is unthinkable in the modern climate. I just don’t believe it – simple as that. There is no way a referee would stoop to that, I am convinced of that.”

It has also emerged that Mikel and the Blues’ manager Roberto di Matteo allegedly breached protocol by storming into the referee’s room immediately after the match in which Clattenburg sent off two Chelsea players. Under FA rules, there has to be a 30-minute “cooling down” period after a game. There can be little doubt their hasty reaction was fuelled by a sense of injustice.

A cynic would suggest the West London club have deliberately sidelined the referee, who has been stood down from officiating this weekend, because of their displeasure at the decisions he made in the dramatic contest that saw United inflict the home side’s first Premier League defeat of the season.

With all the other match officials who were able to hear the mic’d up ref  dismissing Chelsea’s claims, it is hard to see where any evidence will come from that will condemn Clattenburg. In the meantime, the 37-year-old’s reputation has arguably been damaged beyond repair and, as any lawyer will tell you, Chelsea’s failure to prove their allegations will surely dictate that the official must sue for libel.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are already in the dock after one of their own supporters was pictured appearing to make a monkey gesture at Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck during the midweek League Cup game. And the club is still defending themselves over their handling of the John Terry affair, refusing to strip their captain of the armband after he received a four match ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

As for Blues boss Di Matteo, his response to the criticism from Wenger and Ferguson has been to declare: ‘It’s a free country where everybody has the freedom of speech. We’ll take into consideration what other people say and use it as a motivational tool for ourselves.’ What he may fail to realise is that many of their opponents will be driven by a desire to punish them for their selfish actions.

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Why Manchester United fans will have absolutely no sympathy for Chelsea as the Premier League pacesetters are justly beaten

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BY JOHN GUBBA

Let’s face it, there is no love lost when Chelsea play Manchester United and a first League victory for the Reds at Stamford Bridge in over a decade is going to taste sweet whatever the circumstances. To end the Blues unbeaten start to the season and then hear their manager and players blame the referee is quite simply music to the ears of the Old Trafford faithful.

In recent years United have been on the wrong end of so many bad refereeing decisions that have given the points to Chelsea that cynics would suspect  a conspiracy. Two seasons ago Sir Alex Ferguson found himself on the end of a five-match ban for “telling the truth” after a shocking performance by Martin Atkinson.

There was no such robbery on this occasion because referee Mark Clattenburg’s decisions did not prevent the team that deserved to come out on top from winning the match. The media enjoy confrontation and there is no disputing there was plenty of controversy in a red hot contest that ended with Chelsea down to nine men and claiming the winner from Javier Hernandez that made it 3-2 was offside.

But the referee got the most important decision right when he sent off Branislav Ivanovic for bringing down Ashley Young as he broke clear with only Petr Cech to beat  – as Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo was honest enough to admit. That professional foul denied United the chance to put United back in front after Chelsea had recovered from 2-nil down to make it all square.

When Fernando Torres went down at the other end and saw red after the ref gave him a second yellow for simulation the home fans howled with rage claiming Jonny Evans had made contact. But as Sir Alex summed up afterwards the Spaniard only had himself to blame for going down too easily when he could have gone on and tried to score.

Whether or not the decisive strike by Hernandez, shortly after replacing Wayne Rooney, was offside was so marginal that the officials made the right call. My belief is that the television evidence was presented in favour of Chelsea when it could just as easily have been served up the other way by stopping the video two frames later. When you consider there are 25 frames in a second you will understand the margins and being in line with the last defender means the striker is onside.

At the end of the day, we all know that refereeing decisions regularly change the outcome of matches and ultimately the destination of trophies. But on the whole these things have a habit of evening themselves out. While great teams are not crushed by one bad result, whether fair or not.  

Master class: Rio Ferdinand ignored abuse by Chelsea fans and at his brilliant best with a magnificent display for Manchester United

Master class: Rio Ferdinand ignored abuse by Chelsea fans and at his brilliant best with a magnificent display in United's 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge

For the record, David Luiz’s own goal and Robin van Persie’s clinical finish gave Manchester United a two-goal lead early on. But Premier League leaders Chelsea fought back superbly to level with goals from Juan Mata and Ramires either side of the interval before Hernandez struck the winner 15 minutes from the end. It was a pulsating game of football and yet another example of why the EPL is the most exciting League in the world.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand deserves huge praise. Not only did he show his support for the Kick It Out campaign by wearing their T-shirt and buried the hatchet with England team-mate Ashley Cole by shaking hands with him before the game. But the former England skipper, shamelessly booed by Chelsea’s John Terry-loyal fans every time he touched the ball, was at his imperious best.

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Champions League semi-final . . . and Torres scores! This was match that had everything as Chelsea’s 10-men slay Barcelona

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Ole! Fernando Torres comes off the bench to add a stunning final twist

Ole! Fernando Torres comes off the bench to add a stunning final twist

 

BY JOHN GUBBA

Football is the greatest game on the planet because you just never know when something magical is going to happen . . . and tonight’s epic Champions League encounter at the Nou Camp was one of those occasions that will go down in sporting folklore as a match that had just about every twist and turn you could possibly imagine.

For Chelsea’s heroes, who fought on against all the odds after skipper John Terry was sent off for a moment of madness when he inexplicably kicked out at Alexis Sanchez, it looked like mission impossible when the West London club fell 2-nil behind on the night.  Didier Drogba’s one goal advantage from the first leg was blown away in 10 minutes of meyhem at the end of the first half in Barcelona, as Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta struck either side of Terry’s red card.

It was a crazy spell punctuated on the stroke of half-time by a breakaway deliciously converted by Ramires – the Brazilian unfazed by the knowledge his earlier yellow card had ruled him out of the final. It was a mighty blow as powerful as Roy Keane’s in similar circumstances that dragged Manchester United back from the brink against Juventus back in 1999. That made it 2-2 on aggregate and put Chelsea ahead at the interval on the away goals rule. But it was far from the end of the breathtaking drama.

When the world’s best player Lionel Messi – who has never scored against Chelsea – smacked his 47th minute penalty against the crossbar after Drogba felled Cesc Fabregas, it was the start of another riveting half. Barca, with over 70 percent of the possession, came forward in wave after wave of attacks. But when they did find a way past the stubborn 10-men, a raking shot from Messi hit the post and then Alexis Sanchez had an effort ruled out for offside.

When Drogba made way for Fernando Torres I remember saying out load ‘If he comes on and scores the winner all his misses will be forgotten.’ It was a script you could not write and there was another lucky escape for Chelsea when they survived a handball that probably should have given Barca another penalty. But the official missed it and the ball immediately broke to Torres who was suddenly clean through on his own.

It was as if the Spaniard had been signed purely for this moment of destiny and this time there was never any doubt the player who has been guilty of so many shocking misses since he was signed from Liverpool for £40 million in January 2011 would seal the tie. As he effortlessly rounded Victor Valdes and steered the ball into the empty net, the man who had masterminded this remarkable sting, interim manager Roberto di Matteo, began his ecstatic victory celebrations on the touchline.

It was a scene that will be etched into many memories for generations to come. It was the day tactics and experience got the better of the team so many had put on a pedestal as arguably the greatest club side we have ever seen. But on this evidence Barca are not the masters we all thought – and even the magical Messi lost his aura of invincibility as he was brought to his knees by the team that lies sixth in the English Premier League.

FT: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (Chelsea win 3-2 on aggregate). Goals: Busquets 35, Iniesta 43 – Ramires 45+1, Torres 90+1

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Revenge? Roberto Di Matteo has restored lost pride – but Barcelona too good for Chelsea . . . and so are Real Madrid & Bayern Munich!

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Blues skipper John Terry is still launted by Barca's injury time winner in 2009

Blues skipper John Terry is still haunted by Barca's injury time winner from Andres Iniesta in 2009

BY JOHN GUBBA

Winning the Champions League has become an obsession for Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo has kept the Russian’s dream alive against all the odds by guiding Chelsea into a semi-final showdown with defending champions Barcelona. But the harsh reality is that the Blues are unlikely to feature in next season’s competition unless they go on to win the tournament – and in the final four they are the rank outsiders.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have a touch of class a cut above the men from Stamford Bridge. Barca, in the semi-finals for the fifth successive season, are bidding to become the first side to successfully defend the European Cup since AC Milan in 1990 – and if they achieve that goal it will add weight to the argument that this is the greatest club side the beautiful game has ever seen.

But the beauty of the world’s most popular sport is you can never take anything for granted. And that is what makes Chelsea’s semi-final with the favourites so fascinating. It is a scenario that suits interim manager Di Matteo because the experts all agree they are the weakest team left in the competition, despite beating Benfica in both legs of their quarter-final.

http://youtu.be/FCGRyOJB6Ms

No one expects Chelsea to go any further and that is what gives  them a fighter’s chance of pulling off a shock because they have nothing to lose. The Blues will also remember how they took Barca to the brink the last time they met at this stage in 2009 and the Catalans were rescued by a last gasp winner after surviving a remarkable number of strong penalty appeals.

I still expect Lionel Messi and his team-mates to progress to the final. But do not be surprised if  Di Matteo’s men push Barcelona all the way in their two-legged contest for the right to play Real or Bayern in the Final in Munich’s Allianz Arena on 19 May.

FLASHBACK: Arguably Chelsea’s greatest European triumph came against Barcelona in 2005 when  John Terry’s header sealed a 5-4 aggregate win and sent the Blues into the last eight of the Champions League. It was the night. Chelsea raced into a three-goal lead in 19 minutes, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff on target for Jose Mourinho’s side. Barca pulled two goals back before half-time, Ronaldinho scoring from the spot after Paolo Ferreira handled. Then Ronaldinho  scored a stunning second. But Terry’s 75th minutes strike made it a decisive 4-2 win on the night.

http://youtu.be/gr2N2A_M_Bo

 

 You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football

 

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You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football

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Roberto Di Matteo left out Lampard, Drogba and Essien in Lisbon - and Chelsea won 1-0

Roberto Di Matteo left out Lampard, Drogba and Essien in Lisbon - and Chelsea won 1-0

BY JOHN GUBBA

Roberto Di Matteo is an excellent manager and against all the odds has done a terrific job since he was thrown into the Stamford Bridge firing line as interim manager. But it would be bad for football if Chelsea go any further in the Champions League.

The problem is success for the Blues will be interpreted by Roman Abramovich as justification for his ridiculous policy of sacking managers on a whim.

The suspicion is that the mega rich Russian owner does not respect the role of the manager because he thinks he knows better and gives silent approval to the player power influences that have undermined more than most recent failure Andre Villas-Boas.

Can you imagine the triumphalism of Abramovich if Fernando Torres was to score the winning goal in the Champions League Final? The crazy thing about football is that the impossible sometimes does come true. And Di Matteo’s men are in touching distance of reaching the final four after tonight’s first leg 1-0 win over Benfica in Lisbon.

But then of course there is the magical Lionel Messi and his brilliant Barcelona team mates who will surely be waiting in the semi-final unless Milan can pull off the shock of the tournament so far.

Di Matteo’s FA Cup Final goal against Middlesbrough in 1997 made him a Chelsea legend . . .