Chelsea's exercise in futility
Sorry to say it, Blues fans, but Chelsea just isn't destined to win the Champions League under Roman Abramovich's ownership.
Tuesday's 2-1 loss at Manchester United, which sent the Londoners out in the quarterfinal stage 3-1 on aggregate, means the drought continues. There will be no short trip to North London, and Wembley, at the end of May for the final.
Abramovich's signing of Fernando Torres for 50 million pounds, the latest big money deal during the Russian oligarch's eight-year reign, has backfired, at least in the short term. The Spanish international was hauled off at halftime, quite the embarrassment, after once again failing to find the back of the net.
But the tale of woe began in 2005, when, facing Liverpool in the semifinals at Anfield, Chelsea's back line was adamant Luis Garcia's tapped effort didn't cross the line. The officials saw it differently, and Liverpool advanced 1-0 before engineering the comeback of them all in the final against A.C. Milan. The Special One, Jose Mourinho, couldn't lead Chelsea to European glory then.
Three years later, in a highly entertaining final versus United in Moscow, this time led by Avram Grant -- the polar opposite of the brash Mourinho -- Chelsea skipper John Terry had the win on his right boot in a penalty shootout. He slipped as he struck the ball, it hit the post, United recovered, and Chelsea suffered more heartache. Abramovich couldn't get the dream ending of triumphing in his native land.
A year later, with yet another manager in charge, the experienced and much respected Guus Hiddink, Chelsea was robbed by a Norwegian referee facing mighty Barcelona in the semifinals. Numerous credible penalty appeals waved away at Stamford Bridge, Andres Iniesta's strike in injury time sent the Catalans through on away goals.
Carlo Ancelotti was finally supposed to be the man to turn things around. After all, he's one of only six men to win the Champions League as a player and coach.
Ancelotti indeed brought silverware to west London in his first term last season, achieving the Premier League and FA Cup double, yet Abramovich covets European success. Chelsea's exit at Old Trafford on Tuesday probably sealed the manager's fate.
The Blues will feel slightly aggrieved again. In last week's first leg, United left back Patrice Evra clearly hauled down Ramires in the box in the dying minutes. Instead of a penalty and possible 1-1 result, United returned home with an advantage.
Ancelotti has had success against United in Europe, knocking the Red Devils out twice while with AC Milan, and he was at the helm when United last tasted defeat at Old Trafford 12 months ago, in the Premier League, giving the Blues some hope entering the second leg.
The Italian didn't get things right, though. He erred in starting Torres instead of Didier Drogba. Drogba and Torres hadn't scored in more than five hours of playing together, yet even that would have been a better option.
Torres' only useful contribution was controlling a ball nicely at the edge of the United box. In the same sequence, he subsequently fluffed his effort. Ancelotti did essentially start two up front, teaming Torres with Frenchman Nicolas Anelka. There was logic in that, at least, as Anelka had netted seven times in this season's Champions League.
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Anelka began well enough, firing a shot within 15 minutes that, had it been on target, would have gotten past keeper Edwin van der Sar. But the Frenchman's night deteriorated.
Anelka gave the ball away in a dangerous spot in the middle of the park, allowing United to counter. Ramires was forced to haul down Nani near the box, earning what would turn out to be a pivotal yellow card. Ramires was later sent off for a second yellow.
And Anelka was caught napping on United's opener late in the first half, allowing fellow veteran Ryan Giggs to slip behind him. Giggs, as he did in the first leg, provided the assist. Anelka's substitution in the second half sealed his horrible evening.
It won't get easier for Chelsea to win the Champions League, unless Abramovich makes some productive additions. Terry, Frank Lampard, who missed a golden chance in the first half, Anelka and Drogba are past their primes. Ancelotti's successor, whoever that is, will have a tough time sorting it all out.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.