Today marks 20 years since Chelsea’s second game in the Champions League second group stage in what was our first season in the competition.
Lazio v Chelsea, Champions League group stage two, matchday two, Tuesday 7 December 1999
Chelsea’s first time dining at Europe’s top table was going as well as we could have hoped. Having progressed from the first group stage as group winners at the first time of asking, the second group stage [the format of the competition was different from the current era] had commenced with a very convincing 3-1 home win over Feyenoord.
Again Gianluca Vialli’s Chelsea were looking like we belonged here but next up from this four-team group was a match away in Italy against Lazio. The club from Rome had finished runners-up to AC Milan in Serie A the season before and we had already held our own against Milan in the first group stage, yet unlike the Rossoneri, many saw Lazio as a team on the rise. Indeed along with Barcelona they were the favourites to win the Champions League in 1999/00. They had certainly spent big.
Nesta, Veron, Nedved, Mancini were some of the stellar names greeting Chelsea on a clear, chilly winter’s evening in the Eternal City. Sven-Goran Eriksson was the Lazio manager.
The Chelsea Champions League line-up was by this stage of the season well-established, and was not short on experience of playing in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico which was only half full. Roberto Di Matteo (pictured top) had even joined from Lazio.
There was certainly little sign of tension in the Londoners display. We were solid, despite a flurry of set-pieces sent our way, primarily sweetly struck by future Chelsea player Juan Sebastian Veron. One of his corners did hit the outside of the post, although many were headed away by Tore Andre Flo.
‘We defended as a team,’ noted boss Vialli. ‘It all starts from the two strikers and Zola and Flo did a very good job, not just when we had the ball but when Lazio had the ball.’ Eriksson commended our defending as well and argued his side could not be brilliant every game.
Vialli’s own evening did not go quite so well as his team’s. In the second half Flo had beaten Fernando Couto and was through on goal but the Portuguese defender, with a reputation for gamesmanship, collapsed holding his face and the whistle blew. The Chelsea manager’s complaints led to him being sent from the bench to the stands by the referee. Flo was adamant he had not touched Couto.
‘After my dismissal, the team started to play better. Maybe they felt liberated!’ joked Vialli later.
Certainly we came the closer to scoring. It was Zola’s turn to get the better of Couto, with great skill, and he chipped at goal. The ball was heading towards the target and Chelsea full-back Celestine Babayaro was closing fast to make sure, but somehow Lazio’s Guerino Gottardi cleared the ball.
So the game ended 0-0, enough for Chelsea to enter the midwinter pause in European competition as top of our group with two matches played.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey, Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf, Babayaro; Petrescu Deschamps (Di Matteo 75), Wise, Poyet, Zola, Flo.
Unused subs: Cudicini, Lambourde, Hogh, Morris, Goldbaek, Sutton.
The game can be watched in 'The Champions League Years' video below. The full series is available as a video boxset on The 5th Stand app