In return to Chelsea, Didier Drogba as subdued as his new squad

Tuesday March 18th, 2014

Didier Drogba couldn't find a way to break through against Chelsea in his return to Stamford Bridge.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The return of Didier Drogba to Stamford Bridge dominated the build-up to the second leg of Chelsea's Champions League tie against Galatasaray and, as it turned out, his emotional wander around the pitch dominated the game. As a contest, this was all but a non-event -- the dominance Chelsea had shown in the first hour in the first leg was repeated and this time translated into a comfortable 2-0 victory on the night, 3-1 on aggregate.

Before kick-off, Drogba was applauded by all four sides of the ground before kissing Jose Mourinho ostentatiously on the cheek. At the Matthew Harding Stand a large blue banner showed a portrait of the Ivorian alongside the legend "Always in our hearts," and a few rows below that, hanging over the front of the second tier, there was the orange banner "Drogba Legend" that usually hangs from the Shed End.

It was the other great west African forward on the pitch, though, who made a more telling contribution. Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o took a while to settle into life in the Premier League, with Jose Mourinho -- even before his unguarded comment about what Eto'o's real age may be -- suggesting his focus may have gone during his two years in Russia with Anzhi. But he has developed a happy knack of scoring in big games -- at home at least -- and he gave Chelsea a fourth-minute lead.

Although he did smack a freekick miles over the bar, hitting the banner that proclaimed him a legend, Drogba was only intermittently involved. He won a few headers (including one in the final minute that drew a simple save from Petr Cech), was fouled a few times and had one other shot that also failed to hit the target. His main contribution was to look despairingly and applaud hopefully at a back line that looked just as rickety as it had in Istanbul three weeks ago. Back then, Chelsea hadn't taken advantage; this time it did.

Eto'o's goal was an indication of what was to come. Eden Hazard was left a ludicrous amount of room in the middle of the Galatasaray half, forcing Felipe Melo out of position to close him down. That left Oscar free, Hazard slipped the ball to him and the Brazilian played a delightfully weighted ball for Eto'o, who had somehow crept untended beyond the Galatasaray back line. Even then, as Eto'o opted to take a touch before hitting his shot under Fernando Muslera, there might have been a chance to cover, but there seemed a lack of urgency about both Aurelien Chedjou and Emmanuel Eboue as they plodded back. Galasataray's fans, many of them from London's large Turkish community, were raucous throughout, but their team seemed gripped by a strange sense of resignation, as though it had been caught up by the air of testimonial that hung over the pre-match pleasantries.

"It was everything we wanted it to be," Frank Lampard said of the performance on ITV. "It was a tough game. People can take it for granted because we got a decent result out there but they hardly threatened from beginning to end. It was a very professional, controlled performance from all of us."

It was a theme Mourinho continued. "This was a difficult tie," he insisted, "this kind of tie where people think we have to do it but the reality is Galatasaray is a big club with lots of experienced players."

The reality also is that Chelsea played at nowhere full pace, but created chance after chance in the first half. Twice John Terry almost created something from corners, but the warning wasn't heeded. Two minutes before halftime Terry had a free run at another corner and although Fernando Muslera made a decent initial save, nobody had bothered marking Gary Cahill either, and he was unopposed as he slammed the ball in.

His name was sung in the final minutes but there was not only no romantic return for Drogba -- this, it had seemed, might be a master-class in the relatively recent art of non-celebration of goals against former clubs; there was barely a return at all. It had been suggested that Jose Mourinho's insistence that there would be a coaching job waiting for him when he wanted to quit playing was another of his famous mind-games, designed to temper Drogba's aggression, but whether it was or not was barely relevant. Drogba had little influence in the game because he was barely involved, and he was barely involved because Galatasaray was so poor, seemingly overawed and unable to deal with Hazard.

Chelsea seemed barely to break sweat in the second half, which rapidly became a scratchy non-event. It wasn't a game that will live long in the memory or inspire many nostalgic reminiscences in decades to come, but for Mourinho it was job done. It will be in Friday's quarter-final draw and Drogba and Galatasaray will not.

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