To the nines

Our tie against Eintracht Frankfurt is Chelsea’s ninth major European semi-final since Roman Abramovich became the club’s owner, a figure no other team has surpassed in that time.

Mr Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2003, bringing huge change to the club and lofty new ambitions, heralding the start of the most successful period in our history.

That is evidenced by our progress in continental competitions, as no team has appeared in more than nine semi-finals over those 16 years, although our tally is matched by Barcelona.

Of course, two of our most famous European semi-finals have actually been against the Catalan side, with the first a very tight and even more controversial, tie in the 2008/09 Champions League.

Guus Hiddink’s Blues had secured a hard-fought 0-0 draw in the first leg at the Nou Camp and took an early lead through a belter of a Michael Essien volley at the Bridge.

However, the Chelsea players were left furious at a series of refereeing decisions before Andres Iniesta struck with an impressive effort of his own in stoppage time, sending Barcelona to the final via the away goals rule.

We would have our revenge when the two teams met in the Champions League semis again three years later though, in one of the sweetest of all Blues fans’ European memories. This time we were at home in the first game and Didier Drogba gave us a 1-0 lead to take to Spain, where things went a bid mad.

First things looked tough as Gary Cahill was forced off with an injury, we were reduced to 10 men by John Terry’s red card and goals from Sergio Busquets and Iniesta put the hosts ahead, but on the stroke of half-time an inspired lob by Ramires gave us back the advantage on away goals.

It seemed almost like destiny from then on, as Lionel Messi wasted Barca’s big chance by hitting his penalty against the crossbar and Fernando Torres raced clear to make our progress safe right at the end. Plus, of course, another heroic night in Germany resulted in us lifting the Champions League trophy for the first time in our history.

That wasn’t the only time the Champions League semi-finals have allowed us to exorcise our demons from earlier editions of the competition, either. Following two more painful exits at that stage to Liverpool, including just a little controversy again, we met the Reds in the last four for the third time in four years in 2008. Overall, we would go on to face them in the Champions League for five consecutive campaigns.

This time it was to be us celebrating at the end of another night of drama at the Bridge, though, after an injury-time John Arne Riise own goal meant we left Anfield leading on away goals.

In SW6, Drogba gave us the lead, but Torres struck back for the Reds to take the match to extra time, when another Drogba goal and a Frank Lampard penalty gave us a 3-2 win, despite Ryan Babel’s late consolation for the visitors.

We also reached the Champions League semi-finals in the first season of the Abramovich era, but the only silver lining to that defeat to Monaco in 2004 was that after the French side lost the final to Porto, the Portuguese side provided us with the manager and several players who would help us secure back-to-back Premier League titles in the next two years.

Nine years later, we were competing in the Europa League for the only time before this season, beating Basel in the semi-finals as Victor Moses and David Luiz scored in both legs, the Brazilian’s late strike giving us a 2-1 victory in Switzerland.

Torres also found the net in the second game at home, helping see us past a brief scare at the Bridge when Mohamed Salah levelled the aggregate scores just before half-time, to triumph 5-2 over the two legs.

Hopefully that 100 per cent record in the Europa League semi-finals will still be intact at the end of Eintracht Frankfurt’s visit to west London.

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