Didier Drogba ruined Juventus manager Claudio Ranieri's return to Chelsea as the Ivorian forward sealed a 1-0 win in the UEFA Champions League last-16 first leg. Ranieri spent four years at Chelsea before being cast aside by Roman Abramovich to make way for Jose Mourinho in 2004 and Drogba's first half strike at Stamford Bridge denied him the chance for immediate revenge.
The Italian coach could still have the last laugh though as Chelsea's failure to turn their pressure into more goals leaves the tie on a knife-edge going into the return in Turin on 10 March.
Blues boss Guus Hiddink said was not overjoyed with his new team's performance. "It is a narrow result, so overall I'm not satisfied to be honest. A normal analysis is that over the whole game we can't be that happy," he said. In the first part we started well but after the goal we dropped back too far. We were a little bit anxious. Of course it is good to have a clean sheet because now Juventus have to try to score at home."
Ranieri said that his game-plan had not come off. "Of course scoring an away goal is important so it could have been much better for us. That was our game-plan. One of the players said that after years of playing English teams this was one of our best performances. But to be frank I would rather have not played so well and scored a goal."
While Ranieri is fondly thought of at Chelsea, he was unable to deliver success during his reign. Guus Hiddink, the latest man to take his turn in the Chelsea hot-seat, was brought in as a replacement for Luiz Felipe Scolari earlier this month with the expectation of winning the UEFA Champions League and making Manchester United sweat for the English Premier League title.
On the evidence of this energetic display, Hiddink, in just his second game in charge, has brought a sense of purpose and unity to a dressing room divided over Scolari's sacking. Just as importantly Scolari's stubborn policy of not playing Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in the same forward line has been scrapped.
Chelsea's fans extended a warm welcome to Ranieri as he emerged from the tunnel to take his place on the bench, but the hospitality clearly didn't extend to the pitch. The chance to avenge last year's final defeat to Manchester United is a powerful motivation for the Blues and they made the kind of high-tempo start absent from the final days of Scolari's reign.
Drogba the key
With Drogba back from exile and finally looking motivated, Chelsea are suddenly a team brimming with power and poise. Jose Bosingwa whipped in a tantalising cross from the right touchline and Drogba launched himself into a diving header that flashed just over. When Drogba is in the right mood he can be unstoppable. He had a penalty appeal waved away in the 10th minute but Juventus had no answer as he opened the scoring two minutes later.
Salomon Kalou threaded a pass that dissected the Juventus defence and found Drogba, just onside, lurking on the edge of the area. The Ivorian was calmness personified as he took a touch before firing past Gianluigi Buffon. It was Drogba's first goal of 2009 and only his fourth this season. He should have added to that total when he muscled his way on to Frank Lampard's corner moments later but mistimed his header and the ball drifted harmlessly wide.
Ranieri's side responded with a lightning break that almost produced an equaliser. Former Chelsea midfielder Tiago's astute pass picked out Alessandro Del Piero and the Juventus captain forced a fine save from Petr Cech with an angled drive. Del Piero had another effort deflected wide before half-time but Chelsea's relentless pressing gave Juventus little chance to settle.
Drogba showed no signs of easing up after half-time and he powered a header wide of Buffon's near-post from another Bosingwa cross. Lampard then tested Buffon from long range but Chelsea lost some of their rhythm as the game wore on and found it increasingly difficult to prise open the Juventus defence.
Marco Marchionni went close for the Italians with a vicious strike that narrowly cleared the crossbar before Amauri's towering header forced Cech to save. Although Anelka arrowed a fierce shot just wide in the closing stages, Chelsea were forced to settle for a perilously narrow margin of victory.