Two and through
Inside Blue Thu 7 Dec 2017
We may have narrowly missed out on top spot in our Champions League group, but last time we finished second it turned out pretty well.
Given our excellent record in the opening stages of the competition proper, with the one exception of an early exit by the smallest of margins in 2012/13, the last time we finished the group stage as runners up was the 2008/09 season.
The comparisons between this stage in 2017 and 2008 are obvious, not least because it was Roma who came first in the group, albeit then by one point, rather than this year's head-to-head record.
Nine years ago the Blues and the Giallorossi had gone into the group stage as even favourites to progress and it looked like we might have done enough to finish top as we won all three matches at Stamford Bridge, including a 4-0 thrashing of a Bordeaux side managed by France's 1998 World Cup-winning captain, and future national team boss, Laurent Blanc. Our chances were done no harm by a 1-0 home victory against Roma either, when John Terry's header put us three points clear at the top.
However, on that occasion our away form let us down. Terry was again on the scoresheet in the Italian capital, but it wasn't enough as Chelsea went down to 10 men in a 3-1 defeat, which combined with draws in France and Romania, the latter against a stubborn Cluj rearguard effort, left top spot just out of reach.
As an unseeded team, the last-16 draw paired us with another Italian side, this time the country's most successful club, Juventus. A dip in domestic form at the start of 2009 had seen Guus Hiddink replace Luiz Felipe Scolari in the Blues dugout, but one thing remained the same as we made home advantage count in the first leg.
As was often the case, Didier Drogba provided the decisive moment, turning in Salomon Kalou's cross for a 1-0 win, but there was plenty of drama still to come when we visited Turin. We twice went behind to Claudio Ranieri's Juve, but first Michael Essien bundled home the rebound from a Drogba free-kick and then the Ivorian scored himself to make it 3-2 on aggregate.
With any possible disadvantage from finishing second in the group stage overcome, we went on to banish seemingly perennial opponents Liverpool, who we were facing in the Champions League for the fifth consecutive season.
For once we did the damage on the road, with Branislav Ivanovic's famous brace at Anfield combining with Drogba's strike for a 3-1 win in the first leg, before a frantic 4-4 draw in west London.
Things could have got even better, as we were set for the chance of revenge in another all-English final against Manchester United, as the second leg of our semi entered injury time. Essien's fantastic volley at the Bridge put us ahead after a goalless draw at the Nou Camp, only for Andres Iniesta's late goal to settle a controversial and acrimonious tie by the away goals rule.
Even so, it was a memorable campaign all round, for many different reasons, and our second-place finish in the group stage certainly didn't seem to do us any harm as we went within a whisker of a second successive appearance in the final. Hopefully, 2017/18 will see us play one match more and get our hands on the trophy again in Kiev on 26 May.