Chelsea old-boy Drogba shines on what could be a final Champions League hurrah

When Chelsea last played Barcelona in 2009 Didier Drogba cut the picture of frustration at the end of the 1-1 draw that put the Spanish side into the Champions League final on away goals. Denied a string of penalties Drogba let his anger boil over into a tirade that brought a long suspension from the competition but, three years later, the Ivory Coast striker’s experience of playing the reigning champions could not have been more different.

Much like in the FA Cup semi-final days earlier, Drogba opened the scoring shortly before half-time. Against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Drogba turned and lashed the ball past the Spurs’ goalkeeper, a stunning effort that began what eventually turned into a stroll for Roberto Di Matteo’s side. The goal against Barcelona was different, not just in style but in what it meant for the match. Drogba met Ramires’ pull-back to slot past Victor Valdes, heralding a backs-to-the-wall effort from Chelsea, in which the Premier League team employed a massed defence, hard-running in midfield and some excellent last-ditch defending to shut out the previously free-scoring visitors.

Drogba was central to Chelsea’s defensive strength, despite playing as the lone centre-forward. The sort of pressure Barcelona exert has to be relieved at some point. When Chelsea’s defence retrieved the ball, either through a misplaced pass, a Chelsea challenge or the ball going out of play, Drogba was the target. To feet, to head or into space, the striker played a full part in a brave display, with his defensive contribution arguably as important as the goal he scored. A late booking for a foul on Lionel Messi indicates the extent of Drogba’s legwork – as the match wore on and Barca continued to pour forward Drogba was practically playing as a holding midfielder.

Playing the full 90 minutes against Barcelona after playing 84 against Tottenham, Drogba’s showing against Pep Guardiola’s men was perhaps not all good news. Some of Drogba’s reaction to mild challenges from Barca defenders was a little unseemly, the burly striker writhing as if his career was in jeopardy rather than feeling fleeting discomfort. Whether or not Drogba’s theatrics were a calculated attempt to waste time and disrupt Barca’s flow or an oversensitive response to a slight touch is something only the 34-year-old can say for sure.

The impact Drogba has had in his last two matches, both prestige semi-finals, is a far cry from the player reportedly written off by former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, one ready to be jettisoned at the end of the season according to the Daily Telegraph. Villas-Boas did not make it into April, however, and Drogba has now helped put Chelsea into the FA Cup final and half way into the Champions League final too, suggesting that if Drogba does leave Stamford Bridge in the summer it will not be a decision imposed upon him by a manager straining to put his own stamp on the squad, but the prerogative of a player with still plenty to offer.

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