Chelsea advanced to the Champions League semi-finals with a 2-1 aggregate victory after a forgettable 0-1 win for Porto thanks to an incredible overhead kick from Mehdi Taremi.
For a long while, it seemed like this was destined to be a shutout. In the last four of Europe’s premier club competition, Thomas Tuchel’s side delivered a managed, sensible display that felt like a warning to potential opponents. This is a squad that simply gets it done, as Real Madrid or Liverpool are about to discover.
Nanu’s right-wing cross was met by Taremi’s breathtaking acrobatic effort that rippled the far corner of the net, putting the game in jeopardy late on. We were in the fourth of four added minutes at the end of the 90 minutes by that stage. This was a 1-0 disguised as a 0-0.
Is it possible to classify a subdued loss as a professional performance? It should, in this case, from Chelsea’s point of view. Since, despite the fact that they had a 2-0 advantage after the first leg, the tie was still undecided. However, after laying the foundation in Seville last week, the cement was applied in west London to set the foundation in stone.
Chelsea’s two away goals were like a few stones in Porto’s shoe that they couldn’t knock loose. Also with the exception of Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion’s five goals in the previous game at Stamford Bridge, Tuchel’s previous six home games had all been clean sheets, which did not bode well for the three or more Sergio Conceicao’s side expected on the night.The fact that Porto had not won in seven Champions League meetings against English opponents prior to this match did not bode well. Make it eight at this stage.
The positions were reversed for one night only. The Portuguese team had previously excelled as counter-attacking fault-finders in the Champions League, but now they must play the unusual position of tempo-setters. And, to Chelsea’s advantage, they did a great job at playing disruptors. On Tuesday night, perhaps the most intriguing nugget was that there was no excuse for neutrals to look away from the developments in Munich, where Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain were carrying out the second half of their epic.
Chelsea’s back four, especially the depth of experience between Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva at center-back, ensured that any nonsense was held to a minimum. Ahead of them was N’Golo Kante, whose class on the ball and willingness to draw fouls and administer a few ensured the game’s stop-start existence was largely to the host’s detriment.
In the first half, Porto couldn’t get anything out of their 53% holding. Apart from their two attempts on goal in the first 45 minutes, their best opportunity came thanks to a mistake by Edouard Mendy, whose errant pass went straight to Jesus Corona. Jorginho blocked his attempt, resulting in a corner.
The second half continued in the same vein. Chelsea was stodgy and bitter, as was the case with the rest of the team, who still got the best of the opportunities available. On 54 minutes, Christian Pulisic could have linked better with a header, a chance that should have taken the game out of reach. Mason Mount was denied from scoring three minutes later by a well-timed block from Porto right-back Wilson Manafa.
With just under half an hour remaining, Taremi came on for Marko Grujic, giving Porto an extra attacking hazard. The Iranian got right into the action with a header inside the box that was tame enough for Mendy to crash to his left rather than dive to keep it out of the far corner.
Porto has no choice but to sit out the rest of the game at their opponents’ request from that point on. It felt like torment at times, like they were trapped in a circle of hell where no matter what they did, nothing brought them pleasure. Those in white shirts were frantically pursuing those in blue, with heels clipped and counters engaged.
Chelsea had chances to score a third goal when the visitors slowed to a walking pace, with Pulisic spurning another chance in the 92nd minute when he was set through but couldn’t get his finish past an onrushing Agustin Marchesin.
Despite this, Porto pressed on, and Taremi’s heels-over-head volley just gave them a whiff. But the only thing it asked was why he didn’t get on earlier, if not immediately. Porto would leave Seville questioning why they weren’t able to provide more when it counted the most. And maybe, when they look back on this game, they will consider the fact that they couldn’t because Chelsea clearly wouldn’t let them.