Chelsea survive onslaught to emerge from epic

CHELSEA are through to the semi-finals of Champions League after a frenetic, dramatic and remarkable 4-4 draw against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge but you suspect Barcelona will enjoy the video even more than millions of neutral fans across Europe.

In a match that swayed from one extreme to another Chelsea defended like amateurs at one end but showed the character and hunger of true champions at the other to drag their tiring legs into the last four and a mouthwatering tie against Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Co.

It was Frank Lampard who got them there with two goals but quite how they held on nobody really knows because Liverpool came incredibly close to producing a sensational comeback. In the end the Reds finished just short of achieving what many believed had been the impossible after they lost 3-1 to Guus Hiddink’s side in the first leg at Anfield. But there has probably never been a match quite like this in Champions League history.

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink admitted he was worried his team were going out after going in at half-time 2-0 down.

“If you are 1-0 and 2-0 down you are worried,” he said. “It was a matter of having too much respect so we got a little bit angry and the team reacted.”

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted everyone associated with the Reds could hold their heads high after last night’s display.

“We are disappointed because we scored four goals away from home and this game was unbelievable, and I’m really proud of the players,” he said.

On a sensational night Benitez’s men, without inspirational captain Steven Gerrard because of injury, were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Aurelio and Alonso and must have thought the dream was on.

But Chelsea stormed back to lead 3-2 with an own goal from Reina and further strikes from Alex and Lampard as the match swung dramatically in their favour.

Remarkably Liverpool responded and at one stage they led 4-3 after Lucas and Kuyt left Chelsea and their shaky defence in tatters. And even after Lampard drilled home the all-important fourth for the home side there was still time for Essien to clear off the line to deny Liverpool victory on the night.

Liverpool took the lead after 19 minutes when Lampard gave away a free-kick to the right of the penalty area and Cech made his first big mistake of the night.

The Czech international lined up his wall to cover half of the goal but astonishingly left the other half unguarded, allowing Aurelio to curl the ball left-footed into an empty net with the goalkeeper flat-footed.

Shell-shocked Chelsea continued their charity by handing an increasingly confident Liverpool a penalty nine minutes later when Branislav Ivanovic, a two-goal hero at Anfield, needlessly pulled at Xabi Alonso’s shirt as another Aurelio free-kick caused havoc in the area.

Alonso’s penalty was firmly and accurately struck and suddenly Stamford Bridge began to think the unthinkable.

Hiddink responded by bringing on Nicolas Anelka for the ineffective Salomon Kalou, switched to a 4-4-2 formation and clearly read the riot act at half-time judging by Chelsea’s response in the second half.

The energy of the tie swung quickly in Chelsea’s favour but it needed an awful howler from Cech’s opposite number Reina to give the home side a lifeline they so badly needed.

If Cech’s mistake earlier had been miserable this one was worse, Reina deflecting the ball inadvertently into his own net after Drogba had got the faintest of touches to a low Alex cross after 51 minutes.

Alex then struck the all-important leveller, thundering a 25-yard set piece high into Reina’s net and Lampard made it 3-2, sliding home a Drogba cut-back, and it seemed the night was over.

But a deflected shot from Lucas and a header from Kuyt made it 4-3, underlining Chelsea’s vulnerability and Liverpool’s never-say –die spirit.

It wasn’t enough, though, because Lampard, who else, had the final word — sweeping home an excellent shot from an Anelka cross to instigate the kind of celebrations rarely seen here in west London. His goal made the aggregate score 7-5 to Chelsea, which almost sounds convincing.

But everyone who saw the game knows different – including Barcelona.

Subs for Chelsea: Anelka for Kalou 36, Di Santo for Drogba 90.

Subs for Liverpool: Riera for Mascherano 69, Ngog for Torres 80, Babel for Arbeloa 85.


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