Cech's loss is Blues' biggest problem
Pity Julio Cesar, who played tonight after a car crash that left both his eyes blackened and his reflexes slack.
The Inter Milan 'keeper was responsible for giving up a soft goal to Salomon Kalou that might yet prove costly.
Tonight he got off easy.
His counterpart, Petr Cech, looks to be lost for the rest of the season for Chelsea after reports that he has damaged ligaments in his knee.
And Cech took the loss as well, a 2-1 decision that spoiled manager Carlo Ancelotti’s return to the San Siro and might foreshadow an unexpected early exit for an English side that looked so strong.
Cech is simply invaluable to Chelsea. His replacement, Hilario, is but a pale facsimile and in his brief stint out tonight, looked shaky and uncertain. This, coupled with a night when Chelsea’s defenders did not look their best, led to a satisfying win for Jose Mourinho’s Inter side.
With Ashley Cole out, Florent Malouda was dragooned into the back, but he would prove to be more than fit cover.
Shockingly, it was John Terry who was found wanting. In just the third minute, Diego Milito danced around the England center-back to blow one right past Cech on the near post.
Chelsea would recover after the break thanks to Solomon Kalou’s strike from 20-yards out, but Esteban Cambiasso recovered the lead for Inter only minutes later, catching his own rebound to drive the ball past Cech.
The score fails to fully tell the story of a frenetic, physical, and at times, torridly-paced encounter. While Inter were on the board early, Chelsea looked to be the more dangerous side.
Branislav Ivanovic was dangerous roaming out of the back, creating space for himself and exploiting Javier Zanetti to find Didier Drogba. Drogba got two shots at Julio Cesar in the 15th, a thunderous free-kick beating the Brazilian keeper but bounding off the underside of the bar and back out, whereupon Drogba simply ripped another netwards.
That pressure continued until Samuel Eto’o wasted an Inter sitter, created out of nothing, at the half-hour mark. Once again, it was Terry who lay exposed, signaling real problems for Chelsea to come.
At the other end, Lucio and Samuel must share man-of-the-match awards. Under belligerent pressure, Lucio dove, weaved and cleared. Samuel simply refused to be bullied.
But Chelsea also helped as Nicolas Anelka did little to truly to affect the game, while Frank Lampard was invisible for long stretches.
Some fans will question why Kalou was not awarded a penalty at the stroke of halftime by ref Manuel Gonazlez. The ref was correct - Gonzalez judged that while Samuel made contact, Kalou tripped over his own feet, and made a meal of it in a match that had already seen two awful dives.
But in the end, the vaunted strength of Chelsea — who have looked at times like the hoariest of clichés, a “team of destiny” — wilted in the face of a team willing to stand up and take the shots.
Now, without one of the world’s best 'keepers to save them from their rare mistakes, what team will Chelsea be in the return leg at Stamford Bridge?
With five minutes to go tonight in Moscow, Tomas Necid went in wide-open, ball at his feet against 'keeper Andres Palop. The 20-year old striker’s shot was too timid, and Palop was too good, sticking out his right foot to just twist the ball away from the net.
That moment summed up a frustrating night for a CSKA side that arguably deserved better. Instead, they left their home with a 1-1 tie against Sevilla, and some work to do in two week’s time.
Both teams surely came away with a sense that they are as good as anyone left in the knockout stages. Sevilla looked fast, sharp and lucky. CSKA showed some signs of rust, but were able to turn up the heat after the break. Both teams also showed the kind of grit which a side needs to go deep into the European Cup.
First, the Russians: CSKA should have held more cards than it did. They were at home, in the cold, and on their famous plastic pitch, usually good for upturning one of two teams.
Sevilla, of course, was without their top striker, Luis Fabiano, and were forced to make several other changes due to injury. But this was the Russians’ first competitive match since November, and it took time for Necid and wantaway midfielder Milos Krasic to gel alongside new import Keisuke Honda.
Some of that rust allowed Sevilla to sneak in one of the easiest goals you’ll see. Alvaro Negredo was left alone in front of a gaping net when keeper Igor Akinfeev and defender Sergei Ignashevich both missed a right-flank cross from Jesus Navas.
At the other end, Honda and Krasic were stymied by a brilliant display from centre backs Julien Escude and Federico Fazio, who largely kept Palop from having to break a sweat.
But after the break — and a talking to from visibly agitated CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky — CSKA were able to take the tempo up. Necid and Honda kept challenging down the heart of the Sevilla defense, but it was one-time Liverpool flop Mark Gonzalez who saved the day with an absolutely brilliant goal from distance.
It was an unstoppable, left-footed shot soared past Palop to the top far corner from about 35 yards out — as well as arguably being the first legitimate chance for the Russians on the night.
The result means that while Sevilla have the edge heading home, CSKA have everything to play for. Judging on tonight’s performance, they will.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the Champions League and European football.