Bridge Banter: Blues have Champions League edge, but questions remain

First published in Football Wandsworth Guardian: Photograph of the Author by

A vital away goal in Lisbon gave Chelsea the edge over Benfica in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, but big question marks still hover over many members of the current squad.

Blues insiders tell me the consensus among senior figures at Stamford Bridge is that the players are simply not good enough, and that everything feels like it’s in limbo following Andre Villas-Boas’ removal midway through his ‘project’.

With Roberto Di Matteo regarded as only a stop-gap managerial choice, no major decisions on personnel can be made before a full-time appointment appears.

The league defeat by Man City and the goalless draw against Spurs were followed by the midweek win in Portugal… but ask yourself this. How many of today’s squad would have got into Chelsea’s 2005/06 title-winning team?

Petr Cech, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard are still present from that glorious season. But would David Luiz have been picked ahead of Ricardo Carvalho? Or Ramires before Joe Cole? Or John Obi Mikel before Claude Makelele?

Or Jose Bosingwa ahead of William Gallas? No, no, no, no.

So Chelsea continue to push on three fronts with what most observers consider to be a sub-standard squad.

At times it all looks, and feels, desperate. The quality of passing is decidedly mixed, possession is easily surrendered, the defence looks uneasy and the attack is often non-existent.

And yet Salomon Kalou (one of Di Matteo’s favourites) popped up to convert Fernando Torres’ cheeky short lob into the Benfica six-yard box on Tuesday night, to give the Blues a great chance of advancing to the European semi-finals at the second leg next Wednesday.

That’s after the expedition to Villa Park this weekend as the games continue to come thick and fast.

Didier Drogba will be welcomed back up front, alongside Dan Sturridge, and Gary Cahill will return to the heart of defence.

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