Jim White

Chelsea have no chance in Europe

Jim White

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A couple of intriguing ideas surfaced this week. First was the extraordinary prospect that David Moyes, the man who has made a career from being the outsider, who has long chippily relished the thought that he is unconsidered, unloved and unnoticed, had emerged from under the radar to become established as the nation's favourite.

After his Everton beat Sunderland to set up a Mersey derby FA Cup semi-final on April 14, suddenly he has been burdened with every neutral's hopes that he finally win a trophy. Especially when in doing so he can put one over on the increasingly unattractive and isolated Anfield hierarchy.

David Moyes popular? The man who jokes after every game against Liverpool that no one wants to speak to him as we're only interested in the opposition, simply won't know what to do with himself.

But even more bizarre than that was the proposition that emerged after Chelsea won their first leg Champions League quarter-final. People started saying that they could emulate Liverpool and win the whole competition even while performing like a drain in their domestic competition. After their victory in Lisbon, the theory was being floated all over Fleet Street: the Blues are this year's Reds.

Why not? It had worked in the past for an English team. In 2005, when Liverpool won their fifth European Cup in Istanbul, by a nice symmetry they finished fifth in the Premier League. Above them were Moyes's Everton, as it happens. So why not again? If Liverpool could win it while under-performing in their domestic competition, runs the logic, why not Chelsea?

Why shouldn't they, in their most chaotic season in a decade, when they are without a permanent manager, apparently unable to attract any of the top bosses on the continent and with their ageing core of players nowhere near yet being adequately replaced, finally deliver their owner's ambition?

It is a theory to which the only answer is: where do you start?

Take nothing away from Roberto Di Matteo and his team, that was a laudable performance in Lisbon. Winning away without conceding is as good a result as you can hope for in European competition.

Players like Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou performed with real zest and panache. But it does not mean they are destined to lift the biggest trophy in club football in May in Munich. This was, after all, a quarter final against Benfica.

Still ahead of them lie the considerably more formidable challenges of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Or even Milan and Bayern Munich. And you wouldn't fancy the chances against any of those teams of a side which has a central midfield pairing of John Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles.

The truth is, Chelsea are being dragged through this season on a mix of pride and resolve coming from the more elderly elements in the dressing room. Which is no way to conduct a coherent campaign. But then coherence and Chelsea parted company a long time ago.

At its heart, this is a club at war with itself. For the past eight years, as coaches have been sprung from the dugout as if attached to ejector seats, the spine of senior players have provided the kind of continuity that at clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton comes from the management.

Yet now, the presiding wisdom seeping down from the corridors of power is that these self-same players who have kept the club competitive this past decade are the most pressing problem that needs to be addressed. Not only is this a profound misreading of what makes the place tick, it is an appropriately self-destructive thesis for a club owned by a man who apparently believes in the primacy of chaos.

But that spine of Cech, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Essien and Drogba - ageing rapidly before our eyes as it is - can only do so much. Until this week in Lisbon, too few of their colleagues, the men bought in apparently to replace them, have stepped up to the plate. Only Mata of the next generation has shown any kind of consistency across the season.

It means that Chelsea are only sporadic in their sparking. A brief flurry of good results is all too often negated by a ridiculous slip-up. Cup form maybe, but not the kind of basis which enables a team to beat the best in Europe.

As for the comparison with the Liverpool 2005 vintage, remember this. That Liverpool team had one big advantage over this Chelsea: the nature of their run to the final. The draw was much more favourable to them. After all, in the semis they did not have to play the greatest club side the world has ever seen as Di Matteo's side will in all likelihood be obliged to do. They had to play Chelsea.

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