Drogba return goes fruitless; Chelsea, Real Madrid onto CL quarters
Didier Drogba's reunion at Chelsea ended in disappointment for the Galatasaray forward, while Real Madrid suffered some heartbreak despite easing past Schalke in the Spanish capital to reach the Champions League quarterfinals. Here is what caught our eye:
Player of the Day: Samuel Eto'o, Chelsea
"Four minutes in and the three-time African player of the year, who saves his best form for Stamford Bridge, finds space in the area and opens the scoring."
It could have been a report from most Chelsea home games that featured Didier Drogba from 2004 to 2012, but this time, there was a new, old, African leading the Chelsea line.
Amid all the fanfare surrounding Drogba, who pre-match received a silver boot presented by Chelsea's chief executive Ron Gourlay, and the adulation of everyone in the stadium (which can't happen very often), it was another big-game player who stole the show as Chelsea won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Eto'o has a better track record that Drogba in the Champions League: He scored his first goal in the competition back in 2001 for Real Mallorca and among his 30 goals are two in winning finals -- for Barcelona in 2006 and 2009 (he also won it with Mourinho's Inter in 2010). If Eto'o's fate is to win the Champions League in a World Cup year (he also won it in 2009), then Chelsea could be onto a winner.
Certainly Eto'o made the most of Galatasaray's static defense to latch onto Oscar's pass and fire the ball beyond the grasp of Fernando Muslera, who might have done a little better. That strike settled any Chelsea nerves and the host controlled the game thereafter. Eto'o's link-up play with the impressive Eden Hazard, in particular, was always dangerous and there were two or three occasions when Chelsea threatened to score a goal at the end of a Barcelona-esque passing move. In a Mourinho side!
Eto'o's Chelsea record is strange: he has scored 10 goals this season, all of them at home, and the last six have been in big games: Against Spurs last week, Manchester United (hat trick) and in the December win over Liverpool.
He did not start the first leg against Galatasaray, in the week that coincided with Mourinho being caught on camera mocking Eto'o's age.
"It will take a lot more to upset me," Eto'o told BeInSport a week later. But he still sounded upset. "There are things that go on in life that we have to get on with, but it does not change the player I am, or the career I have had. And what do you want me to say? You want me to create a problem in the dressing-room by saying what I think? I'm just glad I'm still scoring goals."
Mourinho has said that Eto'o's movement and understanding with Hazard and Oscar makes him better suited to playing at home rather than away -- that was perfectly apparent against Galatasaray. With some help from his teammates, Eto'o overshadowed Drogba in this game.
A word too on Cristiano Ronaldo: Two more goals for him in Real Madrid's triumph over Schalke - and another strike against the post (his 12th of the season) as he started in Real Madrid's second-string lineup. As Spanish paper Marca put it before the game: "The best form of rest for Cristiano Ronaldo is to play."
And just days after Lionel Messi became Barcelona¹s all-time leading scorer, Ronaldo's own record-chasing notched another victim. He is now level with fourth-placed Ferenc Puskas on 242 goals in all competitions and, with 13 goals in eight European games this season, one away from equaling the 14-goal record of Jose Altafini (1962) and Messi (2012) - and he may have another five games left to play!
Moment of the Day: Jese injury upsets Madrid and Spain
This season has been going like a dream for Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid: Defensively his team has been (mostly) outstanding, Angel di Maria has been a revelation in midfield while Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo have carried on where they left off last season. But perhaps the brightest spark of the campaign has been Jese Rodriguez, the breakout star of the season, a 21-year-old whose pacy performances this season marked him out as a possible wildcard pick for Spain's World Cup squad. Not any more, though.
Five minutes into Real Madrid's 3-1 win over Schalke, Jese went down after a collision with Sead Kolasinac and was stretchered off. The hope that it was not a serious injury looks a futlile one, if early reports from radio station Cadena Ser are to be believed. It is thought that Jese has an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and could be ruled out for between four and six months -- certainly out of the World Cup reckoning.
He had scored five goals in his last five starts and, in the pre-match press conference, gave an impressive account of himself, saying he was happy to be understudy to the Bernabeu stars: "I have a secondary role and I have to take advantage of chances when they come," he said. "If they had told me that my first year with Madrid's first team would be like this, I would have taken it."
On his last Champions League start, he was sacrificed after 27 minutes following Sergio Ramos's red card. This was his next start, and now, sadly, his season is likely to be over -- just when it was about to get interesting.
Takeaways of the Day: Madrid kids are all right
Real Madrid's lineup had eight Spaniards in it and if this was a chance to check on the second-string, and potentially the next generation of Spanish talent, it was instructive. Isco looked solid alongside Xabi Alonso in midfield, while Nacho Fernandez was impressive at right back. Most of the excitement, despite the dead rubber feel to the second leg against Schalke, surrounded Alvaro Morata's first Champions League start.
Morata had been tipped to be a starter for Real Madrid this season after two prolific years in the Castilla side -- until Carlo Ancelotti pointed out his lack of experience (not to mention Karim Benzema's excellent form). Still there were shouts for more game time after his last-minute winner against Levante back in October but since then, the 21-year-old has made seven La Liga appearances and only played more than 20 minutes in two of them.
The buzz around him has increased with comparisons to club legend Raul, because he also spent two years at Atletico Madrid before moving to its cross-city rival (and they both made their debuts at Real Zaragoza). Morata's first coach at Real Madrid, Sergio Piña, unhelpfully compared him to Fernando Morientes and said "but he is better with his feet."
Things started well enough for Morata, as Bale ran onto his through ball to set up the opening goal for Ronaldo. But that was as good as it got as Morata's lack of confidence shone through: first he scuffed the ball wide from eight yards after Bale's cross from the right, and soon after he ignored the chance to play in Ronaldo but was blocked as he attempted to run on goal.
Perhaps he was trying too hard, but by the time he missed a one-on-one, the groans were audible around the Bernabeu. There is no question the player has talent, but he needs to rediscover his confidence. With Jese set for a spell on the sidelines, perhaps more playing time will allow that to happen.
There was some good news for Schalke, though; still third in the league and on course for a place in next season's competition, it also beat Chelsea in the UEFA Youth League, the Under-19 version of the competition, to reach the semifinal. It will face Barcelona (who beat Arsenal 4-2 on Tuesday) next up; and could face Real Madrid in the final.
Over in London, the Mourinho-Drogba love-in was temporarily replaced by the Mourinho-Mancini stand-off, with neither coach keen on the other. Mourinho extended his unbeaten run to 6-for-6x, now with three wins (the previous two: Porto v Lazio in 2003 UEFA Cup and Real Madrid vs. Manchester City in 2012).
Chelsea was so dominant, and Mancini's side seemed so lethargic, that it looked like there had been a misprint in France Football's Tuesday edition which noted the salaries of the best-paid coaches in the world. There was Mourinho, number one with a reported €17 million annual income, with Pep Guardiola second on €15. And at No. 3 on the list, representing a team from a league beset with problems and without a European competition win since the 200 UEFA Cup was Mancini on a reported annual €14 million. Never mind Mancini's coaching skills -- based on Galatasaray's performance at Stamford Bridge, it's the Italian's agent who deserves a medal.
How far can Chelsea and Real Madrid go?
Real Madrid is on a quest for La Decima and after reaching three consecutive semifinals, seems to have the right balance in the squad to go even further this season. Carlo Ancelotti has done a brilliant job in uniting all parts of the club after the tumultuous Mourinho years: from healing the dressing-room divisions between the Spanish and Portuguese players to ensuring harmony in the boardroom -- to the point where president Florentino Perez even has a succession policy in place, with Zinedine Zidane slated to replace the Italian in 2016.
These are optimistic times in Madrid, and with Atletico still in the competition too, you could argue the power in Spain is shifting away from Barcelona.
As for Chelsea, every victory Jose Mourinho ekes out without a world-class striker (sorry Samuel, maybe a few years ago) should be seen as another slap in the face for Manchester United, who did not want the Mourinho 'circus' damaging its brand -- so instead it picked a coach whose results do just that.
Chelsea is top of the Premier League and in Europe's last eight, and this is Mourinho's transition season. This Chelsea side may not have the 'last-chance saloon' belief of the 2012 Champions League winner but it's no worse than Mourinho's 2010 Inter Milan side that lifted the trophy. And with the Portuguese in charge, it's impossible to write off its chances this year -- in fact, Chelsea's tough-to-break-down tactics would be much tougher for favorite Bayern Munich to face than Real Madrid's more open style of play.