The draw had an air of inevitability about it. As Gary Lineker rattled and pulled balls from the ubiquitous glass bowl, audible gasps echoed around the Swiss auditorium that could be heard on the Kings Road. Gasps which confirmed the tie most Chelsea fans wanted, or feared, depending on their inclination.
Tears masked by the rain in Moscow segued to scar tissue for Avram Grant’s 2008 team of nearly men. They moved on (or out, in Grant’s case) in body but not in spirit as the trophy they so craved eluded them once more. Owner Roman Abramovich continues to glance longingly through a grand window pane in search of his club’s acceptance at the top table, as the big boys of Europe sup happily in the warm glow of their success.
Their chequered history in Europe’s premier competition is a flicked match to the fuel which drives them on and perhaps the biggest source of regret, above the phantom Luis Garcia goal or above any damage Barcelona inflicted, is that penalty shoot-out on a cloudy night in Russia three years ago.
Attention inevitably turns to John Terry, in equal parts the symbol of Chelsea’s determination as well as their despair; his slipping standing foot and missed penalty is thrust once more to the forefront of their collective mind.
Forgotten is the fact that Nicolas Anelka also missed from the spot as Man Utd secured their third European crown while Chelsea left empty handed. Football has to be a simple story of heroes and villains, of good and bad. Of revenge and retribution. And make no bones about it; this is about revenge, especially for Terry.
“I think about it every day. When I wake up it’s on my mind, when I go to training, even silly things like when we practice penalties at the training ground, I rewind back to that time” he said of his missed spot kick back in 2009, and his words still hold true.
“I look for inspiration in that shirt – I wanted to keep it as it was a bad memory, a bad night for the lads and it is something we’re still desperately trying to achieve.”
Chelsea have done dramatic so very well before, and not many do it better than Chelsea and Manchester Unite combined either. Their twisting title battles and close run cup contests of recent years are the stuff of folklore as the great rivals forge their unbreakable links with one another each time they meet.
Enter their respective chances into a back lay calculator and the return suggesting which side will emerge as victors will be likely be as near as level as it could be. Compare free bets and the odds will also likely match.
But their desperation, as Terry puts it, cannot be allowed to make its way onto the pitch. In the novel that is the Premier League, sub-plots and narratives rumble under the surface but the Champions League is a different genre altogether.
Even in a game between two English sides it is a continental style that will emerge – especially with the two leg format – and Chelsea will have to be at their technical best if they are to succeed. There is little room for emotion at the very top, especially with the greatest club prize on offer.
Professionalism is a word more likely to be used in association with the Champions League than the razzmatazz that comes with the day job. Much greater is the emphasis on positioning, tactics and awareness over pace, passion and in this case retribution that would normally skip merrily hand in hand in matches between these two. Chelsea simply cannot afford to go into the first game on 6th April hell-bent on making up for their past failings.
This is not 2008, and these are not the two sides from three years ago. Gone are the attacking duo of Christiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, with only Wayne Rooney and a squad that has come in for some criticism keeping the wolf from the door. Plenty of the same names remain from that night in Moscow but they take on a different look without the mercurial talents of Tevez and Ronaldo. When supporting actors become leading men, doubts will inevitably linger and this is certainly not one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s great teams.
On their way to the trophy in 2008 United were unbeaten in Europe and while they have yet to be defeated so far in this year’s tournament, they have far from convinced as they bumbled their way past Marseille in much the same manner that they have done so throughout their Premier League campaign this season.
Chelsea have had similar experiences so far, most notably against Copenhagen in their last 16 tie. In 2008 these two were in a league, and a final, of their own, but their façade has slipped as their league rivals caught up. Man Utd may remain top of the table but the aura has gone, of that there is no doubt as they look to avoid their third straight league defeat this weekend.
In 2008 only two points separated the two sides at the top of the table, and 5th placed Everton were 22 points behind Manchester United as they picked up their 17th league title. This time round the same points difference stretches back to Sunderland in 8th place. Little remains of 2008 in either side, so they should take a similar amount from that year with them on to the Stamford Bridge turf.
In Carlo Ancelotti they have man who has had his best and worst moments in the Champions League.
“I don’t want to consider the past, the past is the past and every game has a different story. We have to prepare well this game, we know them, everything, they know us, everything, so there is no surprise.” The Italian said upon hearing the news of the draw. Sadly that is not the impression others associated with the club are likely to give.
Both the Guardian and the BBC fired off their own missives hours after the draw, and each had a similar tone. Both spoke of the driving force behind Chelsea’s quest for European glory and the scars of Moscow. Ancelotti will do well to keep his team away from a computer or a newspaper for the next month or so.
Written by TCB reader Thomas Rooney