PORTO 1 (Taremi 90+3) (Chelsea win 2-1 on aggregate)
JOB DONE, must do better was the verdict as Chelsea saw off a disappointingly limp Porto side to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2014.
For 90 minutes Thomas Tuchel’s side were in no danger from an unthreatening Porto side who needed to score twice without reply to take the game to extra time. Although substitute Mehdi Taremi scored with a spectacular overhead kick in the third minute of stoppage time, it was too little, too late for Sergio Conceicao’s men who had been too timid throughout and hardly had a shot on goal, in stark contrast to their thrilling win over Juventus in the previous round of 16.
It was comfortable enough for Chelsea, who managed only one effort on target but did not have to do much more, with a 2-0 lead and home advantage, albeit in neutral Seville because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Yet Chelsea will have to be much better than this in the semi-final, which will be against either Liverpool or Real Madrid depending on tonight’s second leg at Anfield, with the Spanish side leading 3-1 from last week.
Either way, two exciting nights against one of the greats of Europe awaits.
But this was the opposite, a workmanlike and efficient display against the weakest side in the last eight. Tuchel knew he just had to avoid conceding for the majority of the game, and sent out a side to do a job. It was not a game for the neutral, and fortunately there were no paying spectators to demand their money back.
The first half was pretty forgettable stuff, without a single effort on target from either side, and the second was not much better. Jesus Corona had Porto’s best chances in those early stages, one presented to him by a misplaced clearance from Edouard Mendy, which he shot wide, and then the winger got goal-side of Ben Chilwell but volleyed over the bar.
Kai Havertz reprised his role as a false nine, with Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount either side of him, but none of them had much joy in a bitty, niggly game. Havertz briefly threatened when put in by Ngolo Kante, but the evergreen Pepe got across to block twice in quick succession.
Chelsea were content to keep it goalless, but lacked adventure and any sense of rhythm in their passing. Porto were the same, surprisingly short of urgency considering they needed at least one goal to worry Chelsea.
The same pattern continued for the first 15 or so minutes of the second-half, with neither goalkeeper called into action. As Porto attacked more, however, space opened up for Chelsea to counter-attack, and Christian Pulisic should have at least hit the target when Ben Chilwell cut back a ball from the byeline. The American, eight yards from goal, failed to make a clean contact and sliced his effort well wide. Kante then put in Mason Mount on the left side of the penalty area, but Wilson Manafa got across well to block.
Conceicao finally showed some ambition shortly after the hour mark, sending on forward Mehdi Taremi, who had missed last week’s first leg through suspension. Within a minute of his introduction Taremi forced the first save of the match, stretching Mendy with a long range header that was at least on target, if too weak to be threatening.
Conceicao made three more changes with 15 minutes to go, sending on attackers Luis Diaz and Evanilson in an effort to find a goal, but the biggest threat to Mendy came when Antonio Rudiger put a header into his arms while defending a corner.
Tuchel made a rash of substitutions of his own in order to waste a little more time, and Pulisic fluffed his lines when he ran in on goal.
Then deep into stoppage time Nuno crossed from the right and Terami launched himself with his back to goal to send a spectacular overhead kick flying past Mendy from 15 yards, a goal reminiscent of Gareth Bale’s effort for Real Madrid when they beat Liverpool in the 2018 final.
But that was effectively the last action of the game and when referee Clement Turpin blew his whistle it was relief for Chelsea – and for those watching on TV.
Tuchel will not care, of course. His brief is to win things with Chelsea and with a place in the FA Cup final at stake on Saturday, as well a top four finish in his sights, he could yet ensure the Blues’ season finishes on a high.