Chelsea relinquished an early advantage but held on for a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Galatasaray in Istanbul.
The visitors had looked in command for much of the encounter at the Turk Telekom Arena. Fernando Torres put Chelsea ahead inside 10 minutes against a Galatasaray side led by Roberto Mancini that came out suicidally adventurous. But Chelsea failed to take further advantage of the inviting openness of their opponents, who improved in the second half after Mancini had made changes to temper his attacking lineup. After Aurelien Chedjou volleyed in a corner from close range, the tide had turned and Jose Mourinho decided to hold on for a draw and an away goal.
Both managers, who continued their war of words dating back to Mourinho’s succeeding of Mancini at Internazionale, will likely be contented yet a tad disappointed that their side did not come away with more. After such a torrid opening to the match, Mancini will have then settled for going to Stamford Bridge with the tie still very much alive. Still, having got back on level terms, Galatasaray were unable to go on and get another. As for Mourinho, who was caught out criticizing his strikers this week, he may reflect that if he had more firepower at his disposal then the tie could well have been put out of reach in the early stages. Mourinho’s safety-first tactics may also be blamed for not doing so, but ultimately his side will still begin the second leg as strong favorites to progress to the quarterfinals.
With Wesley Sneijder on the left, inexperienced winger Izet Hajrovic on the right and former Chelsea great Didier Drogba up front alongside top scorer Burak Yilmaz, Mancini surprised many with the offensive nature of his selection. Rather than a masterstroke, though, it always had the feel of a grave misjudgment against a Chelsea side so devastating on the counter attack.
In just the fourth minute, Galatasaray’s high defensive line caused problems. Fernando Muslera rushed out to meet a through ball in his sweeper-like role but cleared the ball straight to the feet of Willian. Only the fine instincts of the Uruguayan to jump and get his head to the attempted lob to help it wide kept the scores level.
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But with Galatasaray continuing to fail to heed the warnings, a goal was inevitable. It promptly arrived in the ninth minute. Cesar Azpilicueta won the ball deep inside his own half and knocked it off before continuing his run all the way behind a Galatasaray back line that was all over the place. Andre Schurrle found the full-back and with Muslera rushing out to meet him he simply squared it across the six-yard box for Torres to side-foot past two covering defenders.
The threat in behind Galatasaray’s defense remained and Chelsea may well have been disappointed not to have prospered further on the score-sheet by the interval. Ramires failed to keep his shot down from Schurrle’s cut back, while Torres was wasteful on a couple of occasions.
At the other end, Galatasaray did have the ball in the net, but the whistle had already gone before Burak’s emphatic finish, thanks to some underhand delaying tactics from Chelsea captain John Terry.
Faced with mounting evidence that his initial selection had been gravely misjudged, Mancini changed things around after just 30 minutes. Young Bosnian Hajrovic, who actually had Galatasaray’s two best efforts on goal to that point, was hauled off to be replaced by central midfielder Yekta Kurtulus. It meant a switch to a more solid 4-2-3-1, or even 4-3-3 with Selcuk Inan making a midfield three without the ball, and Burak moving to the right.
It certainly helped the hosts, although their vulnerabilities at the back remained. Mancini tried to shore up his defense further at the interval by taking off Hakan Balta and replacing him with Turkey international Semih Kaya. But it did not take long for the substitute and his center-back partner Chedjou to be caught out. After Felipe Melo cheaply conceded possession, Hazard’s run culminated in a ball through the two Galatasaray defenders for Torres, who was just unable to squeeze his shot past Muslera at the near post.
But with Chelsea failing to put the game to bed, Galatasaray began to gain some momentum. They provided Chelsea with a glimpse of their threat from set-pieces when, following a short corner, Drogba headed across the face of goal and Selcuk somehow hit the post from just a couple of yards out. Warning unheeded, Galatasaray got back on level terms minutes later.
This time Sneijder whipped a corner directly into the box that Terry misjudged and Petr Cech was indecisive in coming to claim, allowing Chedjou to volley home from inside the six-yard box.
With the crowd now firmly back engaged, the tide had turned in Galatasaray’s favor. Meanwhile, having earlier been dominant, Chelsea were happy to hold on for a draw as evidenced by Mourinho’s response to the equalizer being to bring on John Mikel Obi for Schurrle.
Galatasaray initially looked intent on pushing for a winner. They came close, too, when Willian was robbed and Cech had to be alert to tip over a fierce long-range effort from Alex Telles. Instead the closing minutes petered out with both teams unwilling to take a risk for a goal that would have changed the whole face of the tie heading to Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time.