Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Champions League Preview: Chelsea v. Juventus

Chelsea supporters will show Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri the utmost in respect today when Juventus visit Stamford Bridge for the first leg of an intriguing Champions League Round of 16 tilt.

I remember well my mixed feelings when he was sacked.

Most forget that Ranieri spent four years leading the Blues. Before Roman Abramovich bought the club, Claudio had taken Chelsea, always 6th it seemed, always losing the big matches to Arsenal and United, into Champions League contention.

It’s been said that the Russian chose Chelsea because of the Champions League spot that Ranieri secured the year before on the final weekend.

More on The Tinkerman and today’s match after the break.

For those who don't know, Ranieri bought Frank Lampard from West Ham.

Think about it for a second. He didn’t use Russian billions, yet secured perhaps the best English midfielder of his generation for a relative bargain of 11M quid.

Similarly, he brought in William Gallas. With Abramovich’s riches, he smartly signed Joe Cole, Claude Makelele, Peter Cech, Arjen Robben and Wayne Bridge. The man also made John Terry captain and as a result, perhaps, of England.

To put it another way, the Chelsea Revolution began under Claudio Ranieri.

Think of his work in the context of Manchester City’s bumblings. Bigus can blow me - Chelsea did it right and Claudio was the key. The Tinkerman made it to the Semis of this competition in 2004 before being sacked by Abramovich, and the sacking was proper.

Big clubs had fallen away, the trophy was there to be taken, and Ranieri bungled and lost to Monaco (yes, Monaco!) in that Semi. He proved that he couldn’t take Chelsea to the next level in a bizarre tactical display that is redolent of the work of a certain current Spanish gaffer up on Merseyside.

Mourinho and trophies galore soon followed. We won the Premiership twice! Chelsea won the Premiership twice, but I’ll never forget those heady days when the Gentleman Italian showed the world how to spend wisely and manage a dressing room made crazy by money and absurd talent.

Remember that in that magic year of 2004, Ranieri finished just second to that perfect Arsenal side. No shame in that. (By the by... I fucking hate Arsenal.)

Today, Ranieri brings Juventus (the man has landed well) into Stamford Bridge for a fixture with drama only reduced in the shadow of yesterday’s Mourinho-Ferguson tilt.

Chelsea enter today’s match having found some nice form under new manager Guus Hiddink. After conceding to Watford, they exploded for three goals to run away with it. This past weekend’s 1-nil scoreline at Villa Park understates the dominance that they displayed.

Meanwhile, Juventus sit second in Serie A, 9 points off of Mourinho’s Inter and 2 clear of Meelan, but they haven’t shown their best of late. The side that beat Real Madrid twice in the Champions League Group Stage has drawn twice and lost twice in eight Serie A matches in the New Year. They haven’t been held scoreless, but they’ve yet to score three.

Two clubs in mediocre form at best, but Chelsea have had a bit of a bump just recently, and I remember The Tinkerman’s tactics in that fateful Spring.

It still hurts...

I feel a big effort coming from my Blues. Many of these players still taste the bitterness of last Spring’s defeat in Moscow on penalties. I’ll boldly call it Chelsea 2, Juventus 0. Juventus take the Turin leg 2-1, but Chelsea still advance. Make it so, Guus...


Keith said...

Chelsea were dominant for 20 minutes in the first half, auto, and that's it. You were a crossbar away from sharing spoils.

The Fan's Attic said...

Did you know that Chelsea is the Duke basketball of Champions League play?

Andrew said...

This is the match-up most intriguing to me.