Brandao strike enough to sink off-colour Blues
THE Chelsea malaise continued against the 'Marseillais' last night.
In this famous old port, they had hoped to find the haven of a victory to relaunch their season, but the Champions League is not a refuge now either for a team that has lost its way of late, even if they had already surged into the last 16 of this competition, winning Group F, prior to last night's match.
But what they were looking for was something restorative. Instead they got another defeat, with Brandao's late goal confirming that this dire run has developed into a crisis.
Although this was billed as Didier Drogba's homecoming, he lasted little more than an hour and appeared distracted by proceedings. It's something that has afflicted the team as a whole and how manager Carlo Ancelotti needed greater comfort than this after a run of just one win in six Premier League games.
Europe had been perfect for them so far with five straight victories, but they could not eke out a sixth as they now prepare for a trying series of domestic assignments -- starting with Tottenham on Sunday -- with John Terry also taken off early as a precaution.
The goal came after his exit from the game, but it was still a telling moment, another drain on fragile confidence while the throwing of objects between the fans close to the end of the match might prompt recriminations.
Drogba (right) was afforded the honour of running onto the pitch on his own, ahead of the rest of the Chelsea team, taking the applause of 'Les Phoceens', which started in the Virage Nord and then all four corners of the velodrome.
The wave of emotion was even more remarkable given Drogba was in Provence for just one year. In terms of Chelsea's future, it was Ancelotti's decision to trust in 17-year-old Josh McEachran in the heart of his midfield, with John Obi Mikel in danger of suspension, which held the greater resonance.
It wasn't his first start in this competition, but it was his first start with the team under so much pressure given their disastrous run, forcing Ancelotti to field a strong line-up.
The cacophony was maintained from both ends of the stadium and rose when Mathieu Valbuena bounced off Michael Essien to retrieve the ball and struck a dipping, right-footed shot from 25 yards which shuddered the crossbar. Moments later, the French international sent a diving header narrowly wide.
Certainly Marseille showed the greater purpose. Both Benoit Cheyrou and Loic Remy had already sliced opportunities wide and there was a clear nervousness within Chelsea, who stood off as Brandao spun and shot past the post.
Rather than be inspired by his return, Drogba appeared inhibited. He lacked his usual drive and aggression, which has also been drained from him by his bout of malaria, and he missed a clear chance after half an hour, when he was teed up by Salomon Kalou.
It lacked conviction, which also summed up the refereeing because Chelsea will certainly feel they were denied two legitimate claims for penalties -- and all this in front of the extra official behind the goal -- when, first, Florent Malouda was caught by Souleymane Diawara and then, just before half-time, the defender clipped Kalou.
The home side also felt an injustice with Gabriel Heinze's header, from a free-kick, ruled out for off-side even though he appeared to have been played on by Jose Bosingwa.
Ancelotti will not have been pleased, sending his team out early for the restart, but there was a marked sense of improvement as Chelsea began the second period, although Malouda should have done better than shooting weakly when released.
Soon after, the ball broke to Kalou who was crowded out as he shaped to shoot, while Ramires ballooned another chance.
Marseille threatened also with Diawara, marginally, failing to turn in Taye Taiwo's cross-cum-shot while the impressive Branislav Ivanovic had to be alert to block Fabrice Abriel. Given that, in truth, there was little tangibly at stake -- Marseille had also qualified -- the game understandably began to drift.
That was until Taiwo broke down the left once more, and shot across goal, the ball deflecting off Ramires for Brandao to poke past Cech and condemn Chelsea to another worrying result, even if the match itself was supposed to be meaningless. But it didn't feel like that last night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)