The New Zealand Herald
Battling Blues nail semi slot
Tuchel proves right tonic when Chelsea needs right touch
In a defining 12 day-period for Chelsea, and for manager Thomas Tuchel, it is one down and two to go. A place in the semifinals of the Champions League against either Real Madrid or Liverpool was earned with an ease — 2-1 on aggregate — not usually associated with this highlevel stage of the competition as Porto were denied hope of mounting an unlikely comeback.
Porto scored, deep into injury time, and they won through an extraordinary overhead kick by substitute Mehdi Taremi from 10m out. How Porto must rue not starting the Iranian striker. It was a great goal but it was just too late for Porto.
It was always going to take something special to beat this Chelsea defence, with its vice-like organisation. Chelsea lost for only the second time in 18 games since Tuchel took over 11 weeks ago but the result was immaterial. It meant Chelsea reached the last four for the first time since 2014 and in four Champions League games under Tuchel they have yet to concede. That is a powerful weapon at this stage.
They now turn to Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City — who may await them in the Champions League final — before a Premier League fixture the following weekend, after they host Brighton, away to West Ham who they need to overhaul to finish in the top four.
Certainly Tuchel has fulfilled the brief of any Chelsea manager — make sure the club is in contention towards the end of a campaign.
“I can imagine that both games were not the nicest games to watch on the television for spectators who look for entertainment,” Tuchel said. “I can totally accept that, but it’s very hard to play your best game against Porto. Part of a performance is not letting your opponent perform. This is what they do and this is what we do also. Today was the day to hang in.”
Can he now go further and win the biggest prizes?
Given the occasion this was about as comfortable as it could get from Chelsea who were never in any serious danger. Their game management was impressive. It may not be the most thrilling football from Chelsea, and in fairness this was a tie they were expected to come through, but it is controlled, winning football. It is tournament football. It is the kind of football that strangles the life out of the opposition, that demoralises them, that wins trophies. They also have the depth in their squad to cope with the run-in.
As with last week’s meeting the second leg was played in Seville, due to coronavirus restrictions, and on a pitch where Chelsea have therefore already played twice this season, departing with two wins and a 6-0 aggregate (having beaten Sevilla 4-0 in the group stages).
In the other quarter-final, after Neymar missed several chances to finish off defending champions Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain were left clinging to a 1-0 home defeat that nevertheless pushed the French club into a second straight Champions League semifinal.
Bayern had to score twice after losing 3-2 in Germany in the first leg of their quarter-final and survived several scares from livewire Neymar in the first half before largely taking control in the second.
But without the prolific Robert Lewandowski, the six-time champions lacked a cutting edge and could not add to Eric Maxim ChoupoMoting’s first-half goal against his former club.
“Normally, my team has so much quality in the final third, but today they were lacking that final punch,” Bayern coach Hansi Flick said.
After losing 1-0 to Bayern in last year’s final, PSG is one step away from the second final of their 51-year history and remains on course to win it for the first time.
“We fought like a great team, we beat the European champions,” Neymar told broadcaster RMC through a translator. “We’re a very competitive team that sticks together.”