For all the talk of Jose Mourinho, and his admittedly wily tactical plan, it was apt that Wesley Sneijder was the most tangible difference between Inter Milan and Chelsea last night. The lack of a truly creative player in the middle of the park has handicapped the London club’s obsessive quest to win the Champions League over the last few years.
Frank Lampard is lauded, and rightly so, as a player who has evidently worked hard enough to become a world class player, despite not being blessed with great natural talent. But he does not have the guile of a Fabregas, a Xavi, a Sneijder.
Michael Ballack is, at this point, a plodding parody of his former self. Carlo Ancelotti seems to distrust an out-of-form Joe Cole, whereas Deco can no longer influence matches as he did in this competition, with glorious results, for both Mourinho’s Porto and Rijkaard’s Barcelona.
In other words, Chelsea’s midfield talents are rather prosaic, and it is power rather than poise that remains the team’s defining trait- and even their power has been compromised by the injury problems plaguing the dynamic Michael Essien.
While they have bludgeoned their way to Premiership glory, and may yet do so again this season, European competition still requires guile and flair above all else. Ancelotti, as Scolari before him, was tasked with making Chelsea a more aesthetically pleasing side, but he is yet to be given the opportunity to mould the team as he sees fit.
As Mourinho taunted in the build up to this tie, it is still essentially the team that he managed (only with aging legs). If Ancelotti is expected to make Chelsea as entertaining as his often superb AC Milan team, he may have to search out a new Kaka, a new Pirlo, a new Seedorf.
Real Madrid sold Sneijder for 15 million euro last summer; with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Chelsea will feel they missed out on a bargain.
Odhran Harrison is the editor of Moral Courage