There are plenty of mixed feelings swirling around Turk Telekom Arena after Chelsea’s first leg 1-1 Champions League draw against Galatasaray.
On one hand, the visitors secured both an away goal and a slight advantage heading home to Stamford Bridge, and still have to like their chances of advancing.
But it could have been so much more.
Chelsea exploited gobs of space in the Galatasaray back line early, and Fernando Torres’s opener in the ninth minute looked as if it could be the first of many.
Instead, Jose Mourinho chose to ease his foot off the gas pedal, and the game melted away into a 1-1 draw.
While the match wasn’t exactly riveting all the way through, there’s plenty to take away from this one involving Chelsea’s fortunes both within and beyond Europe’s top competition, plus some hints on if Galatasaray are legitimate threats to the fortunes of other Champions League hopefuls.
1) Jose Mourinho has a solid defense, but his tactics occasionally backfire
While Mourinho doesn’t always grab a goal and then sit back, Chelsea under Jose Mourinho this year have certainly been more defensive than offensive. They have conceded a Premier League low 21 goals this league season, and the Portugese manager has made it a point of emphasis that solidity at the back is more important than attacking presence up front.
The addition of John Obi Mikel in the second half usually signals a parking of the van – not a full-on defensive tilt but a shutting of shop. Very often, it’s worked.
That substitution has many times spelled the beginning of the end for many a Premier League side this year. Luckily for the Turks, they scored before Mourinho could get Mikel on the pitch.
While Galatasaray will find themselves hard pressed to grab a goal at Stamford Bridge in the second leg (Chelsea have conceded just 11 goals in all competitions at their London fortress), Chelsea remain human. Today’s mistake at the back came from the ever-solid Petr Cech, who should have collected the corner but froze instead, allowing Aurelien Chedjou to pounce.
The point here is that while shutting up shop with a lead usually sees Mourinho through, today it was his undoing. He should have chosen to kill off the game while he could, and it could prove costly.
2) Galatasaray are legitimate Champions League contenders
The Turkish side showed today in a number of ways that they can be a serious threat. In the recent past, Galatasaray have bowed out of the competition meekly, with many chalking up their constant appearances up to a weak Turkish league.
This year, however, Galatasaray has set out to prove the squad is not like those of the past. In the group stage, the Turks impressively took down an otherwise dominant Juventus side twice, proving to be possibly the upset of the Champions League at that point.
The squad is deep, with big names like Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder backed up by a host of workhorses such as Felipe Melo, Burak Yilmaz, and Selcuk Inan. They sport an aggressive yet experienced goalkeeper in Fernando Muslera. And to top it all off, Mancini can bring Umut Bulut off the bench, any manager’s delight.
Despite Chelsea’s away goal and staunch home record, expect the second leg to be a dogfight to the final whistle.
3) Chelsea’s strikers can still be threats, despite Mourinho’s candid
Jose Mourinho unintentionally called out his strikers the other day, but his comments are a bit wide of the mark. While, yes, the Chelsea strikers haven’t been at the top of their game this season, Mourinho’s system doesn’t exactly call for them to be either.
Eden Hazard and Oscar are just as much goal threats as they are creators, and if you’re at this point in the writeup you’ve most likely read the first point of emphasis where Chelsea are a defensive team first.
Since the initial striker drought, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres have done their jobs. Despite Jose calling out his frontmen, their jobs aren’t necessarily to just pile up goals. Their jobs equally are to run at the defenders, and open up spaces for the men behind them to slice apart, something they’ve done with a great deal of effectiveness the past few months.
And Torres can actually hit an open net now, as we saw today. Sorry Chelsea fans, that one was too easy.
4) Chelsea are peaking at the right time
At the beginning of the year, Jose Mourinho quietly (ok maybe not so quietly) went about their business. They had a few hiccups along the way, as any team would under new management. While Arsenal and Manchester City grabbed the headlines with their flurries of goals and attractive style of play, Chelsea sat and waited.
In third place for much of the first half of the Premier League season, Mourinho patiently waited for others to slip up, which they all eventually did.
Now, Mourinho makes his move. As others like Arsenal, City, and Lvierpool all make mistakes, Chelsea aren’t. Today’s performance wasn’t exactly dominating, but proves still that this team rarely makes deadly mistakes. They still hold a relative advantage over the Turks heading back home for the second leg, and their stellar Premier League form has oozed over into other competitions.
Figures like Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini must beware, because a Chelsea club hitting their stride in late February is a dangerous one. Galatasaray may not have found that out just yet, but Roberto Mancini better not rest on his laurels from a solid showing at home, because the second leg at Stamford Bridge is a Jose Mourinho special waiting to happen.