Wednesday 22 January 2020

Forgotten men breathing new life into Bridge

Sam Wallace

Under Andre Villas-Boas it was a long-term project at Chelsea; with Roberto di Matteo it is a dash to the end of the season competing on three fronts and with serious ground to be made up in the Premier League if the club are to claim fourth place.

There is no time for feuds and, as the games pile up, some of Chelsea's forgotten men are being called in from the cold.

In the Champions League quarter-final first leg win over Benfica on Tuesday night in Lisbon, it was the turn of Salomon Kalou and Paulo Ferreira, two outsiders under Villas-Boas, to return to the big stage.

The more teams that Di Matteo picks, the more it appears that he cannot have agreed with many of the decisions made by his erstwhile boss, Villas-Boas.

The goalscorer in Chelsea's 1-0 win was Kalou with just his fifth of the season -- not surprising when you consider that, before he left for the Africa Cup of Nations in January, he had featured in just eight games for Chelsea all season.

Since then he has played in four out of seven of Di Matteo's matches in charge. The 26-year-old can be erratic, but under Villas-Boas he virtually disappeared from the first team.

Kalou said after Tuesday's game that he was frozen out because he refused to sign a new contract at the club. His existing deal runs out in June, putting him in a position to negotiate a lucrative Bosman free transfer in the summer if he decides to leave.

"I have been at the club for six years and I enjoy being here," said Kalou. "Everyone feels like family at the club. There is no reason why I don't want to stay."

The interest from Arsene Wenger is not thought to be as great as it might have been in the past, although, as a free agent, Kalou naturally becomes a much more attractive prospect for any club.

For one who comes across as relatively unassuming, Kalou was outspoken about his treatment under Villas-Boas. "If you don't get on the pitch, it is very hard to show what you can do," he said.

"I feel like maybe sometimes the club never gave me the opportunity to show what I can do. That is a really big frustration for me. Hopefully this is a new beginning and everything will be alright."

Ferreira (33), who has one year left on his existing deal at Chelsea, is a different prospect.

A veteran of Jose Mourinho's Porto team who came to join his manager at Stamford Bridge in 2004, his status at the club has been on the wane for years.

With Branislav Ivanovic injured, Di Matteo went for Ferreira's experience over that offered by Jose Bosingwa and was rewarded with a solid performance from the right-back.

OUTSIDERS

Having lived through Chelsea's various failed attempts to win the competition since the Roman Abramovich revolution in 2003, Ferreira raised the possibility after Tuesday's game that the club's new status as relative outsiders for the Champions League might play in their favour.

"We have a wonderful squad. If you see our squad, we have top players -- all of them international players. For me, anything can happen. Why not? You have to believe," he said.

Having joined Chelsea eight years ago, Ferreira (pictured left) is one of the longest-serving one-club foreign players in the Premier League.

And, while his lack of pace has meant he has been left exposed at times in the English game, he showed against Benfica that he still offers something in the right kind of game.

His performance was all the more remarkable considering that he had not played since the defeat at home to Aston Villa on New Year's Eve, and Tuesday was only his sixth appearance of the season in all competitions.

Irish Independent

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