The first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals reaches their conclusion tonight with what was an intriguing tussle between two of the competition’s outstanding defenses in Porto and Chelsea.
The Blues held Atletico Madrid scoreless over 180 minutes in their round of 16 victory and though Porto could not say the same after their meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo and company it was Pepe who emerged as the hero of a remarkable Champions League upset for the Portuguese side, who were without their two top scorers in the competition, Sergio Oliveira and Mehdi Taremi.
Not only was this a convincing response to the weekend defeat to West Bromwich Albion, when they conceding five goals, but it was an occasion when Chelsea showed the right kind of fight after the training ground bust-up between Antonio Rudiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga that Tuchel was so refreshingly honest about.
“It was the first chance to bounce back and show a reaction. It was a tough match because Porto is very strong and we suffered a bit because we were tense and not free,” Tuchel said. “It was our first response after our first loss together.” They passed that test.
The German has now won his first three Champions League games at Chelsea and the last coach to do that was a certain Roberto Di Matteo – with the club going on to win the Champions League in 2012. During that run was also the last time two English players (Frank Lampard and John Terry) scored for them in the same Champions League match.
Omens? Sometimes it feels like that, but Tuchel is leaving little to chance. This was not a spectacular performance, the German admitted they “suffered”, but it was a mature one. He juggled, he made decisive substitutions and it was not just the two goals but also the clean sheet that was so important.
The imponderable is that although Chelsea has two ‘away’ goals ahead of their home leg next Tuesday, that game will also be played in Seville with the neutral venue required because of coronavirus restrictions
The Portuguese champions cannot be written off, not least because they defeated Juventus in the previous round and will be welcoming back their two best players in Sergio Oliveira and Mehdi Teremi who were suspended.
It is why the second goal made such a difference and fair play to Tuchel for going for it by bringing on Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic for the disappointing Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, and it looked like Pulisic would provide it as he was put through on the right only for his fierce shot to crash back off the cross-bar.
Instead, it was Chilwell with the full-back pouncing on a poor touch by Jesus Corona as the winger intercepted Mateo Kovacic’s flighted pass.
Chilwell sprinted towards goal, held off Chancel Mbemba, left Pepe struggling, and calmly pushed the ball past goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin before side-footing home. “The finishing was clinical,” Tuchel said, with Chelsea scoring twice from only three efforts on target.
Thankfully Porto was far more wasteful. They pressed Chelsea, they were aggressive and positive and they racked up openings.
It could have been very different, as Tuchel acknowledged, with Porto threatening five times in the opening half-hour, Zaidi Sanusi proving the most profligate as he wildly volleyed over from close-range after Pepe headed the ball back to him.
It was then that Mount provided yet more compelling evidence that he is Chelsea’s most important player as he shifted the mood.
It was a shrewd pass into him by Jorginho, but it was all about Mount after that with a wonderful drag back and turn, in one movement, as Sanusi committed himself by sliding in, before driving the ball across Marchesin.
“He has the quality to do this and to do it in a quarter-final is a big step for him,” Tuchel said of the 22-year-old. “He has the right attitude towards success and is open and hungry to learn.”
Still, Porto threatened, with Edouard Mendy reacting alertly to turn Pepe’s header around his post, and then the Chelsea goalkeeper blocked Moussa Marega’s angled shot with his legs after Rudiger hesitated and allowed the striker to run clear of him.
It became increasingly tense, with Porto coach Sergio Conceicao urging his team on sensing a goal was there, but it was Chelsea who failed to take two headed chances with Werner and Cesar Azpilicueta spurning them before there was a mild panic for the latter as he placed his hands on Marega’s back and he went over in the area. The penalty appeals were waved away.
Tuchel made his changes and they worked – and in fairness, he has an extraordinarily strong squad – with Porto finally beginning to tire.
Chilwell swooped and a tight win was turned into something far more convincing, even if Tuchel remained understandably cautious. “It was super-important to get the second away goal,” he said.
“It was a tough match. Life was hard for us and we absolutely accept that we needed a bit of luck to escape a 2-0 and to escape with a clean sheet.” Sometimes, though, you make your own luck and he helped do just that.
PORTO 0-2 CHELSEA
FULL-TIME! It was perfect night for Chelsea in Seville. Mount’s first-half goal put them in front but it’s Chilwell’s superb second which gives them complete control of the tie.
The second leg will be played in the same stadium, but this was Chelsea’s away leg, remember, so the goals are especially valuable.
A superb result and an excellent response to Saturday’s 5-2 loss to West Brom.
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