Chelsea booked their first Champions League semi-final appearance since 2014 by successfully defending a first-leg lead in their quarter-final meeting with FC Porto at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
Thomas Tuchel’s side ran out 0-2 winners at the same venue last time out with England duo Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell getting on the scoresheet. Caution was understandably preached following last Wednesday’s result, the German tactician stating their commanding advantage would be squandered if they’re already dreaming about European Cup success. But on tonight’s evidence, the Londoners remain grounded and ultimately proved one step beyond for their Primeira Liga opponents.
A fascinating contest, sparked by Porto’s desperation to stay alive in this season’s competition, ended in a slender 0-1 victory for the Dragons after second-half substitute Mehdi Taremi produced a stunning 90th minute bicycle kick to deny Edouard Mendy a clean sheet. “We accepted what was needed was a tough, tough fight,” he told BT Sport. “Maybe on the television it was not so nice to watch but on the sidelines it was a very intense game, a very fast game.”
One player who rose to the occasion and putting in a standout performance at both ends from the Premier League outfit was Jorginho, who demonstrated why Pep Guardiola once described him as “exceptional”.
There were only nine misplaced passes from 65 attempted by the metronomic Italian holding midfielder. Despite being primarily tasked with retaining possession (which he did 11 times) and recycling it, the 29-year-old was equally strong on the front foot. No one playing for the ‘hosts’ produced more passes in the opposition half (31) and only Christian Pulisic (2) bettered him when it came to creating goalscoring opportunities (1).
It was, as already mentioned, a reminder what Jorginho is able to bring. Since following Maurizio Sarri from Napoli he’s gone on to enjoy a love-hate relationship with supporters. Things looked promising when Frank Lampard was appointed. He quickly identified the much-maligned star as a key piece of the Chelsea puzzle, but their work together wouldn’t last two seasons. Instead his successor Tuchel is slowly benefiting. Today’s appearance was his 14th under the former Paris Saint-Germain coach and it’s fair to say he’s now among the first names on his team sheet yet again.
A first eleven that is nominally shaped in a 3-4-2-1 formation. A system which this evening saw Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté (replacing the injured Mateo Kovačić) in a double pivot, both subsequently complemented each other, Kanté being his usual ‘everywhere’ self while Jorginho matched his relentless energy stride for stride through completing a game-high eight tackles (with seven of those coming inside the opening 45 minutes) as well as two interceptions.
To describe this showing during such a crucial stage of the season as monstrous would be an understatement. And it needed to be, as Porto were prepared to throw the kitchen sink, though reality showed otherwise as Sérgio Conceição’s men were for large swathes of the game suffocated as Chelsea dominated possession. They finally breached that seemingly impenetrable Chelsea rearguard but it was too little too late.
“We defended well and deserved a clean sheet,” Tuchel added. “We had the better chances – not a lot – but the better half chances. We could not finish it off with a goal so we had to hang in there and the guys did that. Overall we deserved to beat Porto. It was a tough 180 minutes.”
Jorginho’s role was pivotal as their distributor-in-chief; he controlled the game’s tempo and in the process created space for their illustrious attacking players. But they couldn’t penetrate, ending up with just two shots on target from eight total shots. Never one to hog the headlines, this will undoubtedly go down as an unsung performance. Tuchel, who is forging the slick collective spirit that has central to his coaching philosophy, will have paid attention, though. A date with continental powerhouse Real Madrid or domestic rival Liverpool now beckons. The latter conjuring up memories of heated battles and in such a tense atmosphere, having a player of Jorginho’s ilk goes a long way.