Two away goals to nil. Chelsea have a stranglehold on this Champions League tie and can absolutely win the whole thing, but Mason Mount will need some support.
Compliments aimed Porto’s way were delivered strictly from the back of hands ever since the draw was announced. They’re determined, gritty, well-organised; a team that mirrors their manager, who “lives life in a passionate way”. There was no mention of their footballing quality.
It was a narrative played up to by Sergio Conceicao, understandably bought into by the media given the gulf in resources of the two clubs. But Mateus Uribe’s control and volley that dipped just over the bar, Otavio’s neat scooped pass from a corner and the same man’s attempt to whip the next one into the near post put paid to those David and Goliath, FA Cup third round assertions.
Porto were the better team for large periods of this game, with Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho often struggling to find a way through the press and take absolute control as they have frequently done so well under Thomas Tuchel.
The problem was the lack of an out ball. Kai Havertz – playing furthest forward for Chelsea – kept doing that incredibly irritating thing where a player doesn’t actually attempt to head or control the ball when it’s delivered in the air to him, in the vague hope that the slight pressure he puts the defender under will result in his team gaining possession. It didn’t work and the ball kept coming back.
A perfect situation for Timo Werner though, right? Absolutely. Which made his uselessness all the more painful. It’s not that he didn’t make runs in behind what was a very high Porto line, but that he made far too many. It makes sense to make those breaks when players who can deliver those passes are on the ball with their heads up, but to do so regardless of who’s in possession is counter-intuitive.
It means when the likes of Jorginho are looking for an option in behind, Werner is already offside more often than not. There’s a simple fix. Like a miscontrol is a trigger for the press, Jorginho on the ball should be the trigger for Werner to get his skates on.
Tuchel again opted for the German duo with a higher ceiling of quality over those who more consistently knock heads against theirs. But with the season-to-adapt caveat very much in play, the German boss may be wise to lean into it and accept that a team with the current iterations of Werner and Havertz are unlikely to win the Champions League. Their time may come in blue, but to play them in the hope that happens in the last two months of the season with the biggest trophy in European football on the table would be near negligent with so many other options available to him.
Their replacements illustrated exactly what Chelsea had been missing in one counter-attacking move. Olivier Giroud held the ball up expertly for Kovacic – who had at this point grown into the game to come somewhere near his dribbling best – to run at the Porto defence and slip in Christian Pulisic, who stayed onside to rattle the ball off the bar.
That was a rare bit of attacking quality from Chelsea, followed shortly by another from Ben Chilwell, who pounced on a defensive mistake, took four excellent touches to beat the defender, round the goalkeeper and poke home the second of the night.
It was a brilliant goal, bettered by Mason Mount’s sublime opener. It was a perfectly weighted and directed pass by Jorginho through a crowd of bodies, but Mount’s touch with his weaker foot to take the entire Porto defence out of contention was a dribble-inducing moment that allowed him to not break stride as he drilled the ball into the far corner. His outstanding ability is now unquestionable.
He’s just so far ahead of any other attacking Chelsea player right now; the only one they can rely on to create something out of nothing. Other than Reece James – who had another excellent night both defensively and on the rare occasions he got forward – there was no other genuinely threatening attacking outlet.
That needs to change if Chelsea are going to go all the way in a competition they do have a real chance of winning. Mount won’t be able to drag them to glory on his own, though he’ll give it a damn good go.