Reliving the Dream: Chelsea’s first Champions League adventure – part 12 – Going top

Today marks 20 years since Chelsea’s fourth game in the Champions League second group stage in what was our first season in the competition.

Chelsea v Marseille, Champions League group stage two, matchday four, Wednesday 8 March 2000

One week and one day after we had played away against Marseille, we welcomed the French side to Stamford Bridge with the pressure increasing. We had lost 1-0 in the south of France, only our second defeat in the Champions League (the other having come in Berlin in the first group stage of what was then a two-group-stage format to the competition).

It was tight in our group, with Feyenoord leading with six points, ourselves and Lazio on four points and with an identical record for goals, and Marseille a point further back. Importantly, of our three games remaining, two were at home with the first of those upon us.

‘If we repeat the performance like the one we put on in Marseilles, we’ve got very little chance,’ stated manager Gianluca Vialli ahead of the re-match with the French side. ‘The performance there was okay, with the home team only having a couple of chances, but nothing to write home about.

‘I still believe we are better than Marseille. Now it is a matter of improving a little to be able to beat them.’

Compared with the team that lost the first game to Marseille, Vialli was able to recall Celestine Babayaro at left-back after the Africa Cup of Nations. Dan Petrescu was injured and Jody Morris was preferred to Roberto Di Matteo in midfield in a 4-3-1-2 shape.

What followed was by no means one of the great performances and great nights of that long Champions League campaign, but it was enough. There was plenty of attacking intent from Chelsea and Vialli’s plan to bolster the central midfield following our opponents’ strong showing in that area in the first game worked. Morris played well.

As he had done in the first game, Marseille’s second-choice goalkeeper Stephane Trevisan proved an obstacle and he saved well from a Babayaro header, but midway through the first half skipper Dennis Wise made the breakthrough.

Our two strikers combined – Tore Andre Flo winning the ball and crossing for Gianfranco Zola to head down. Wise arrived from midfield to control the ball and find the net with a low shot.

‘It was a great by Gianfranco,’ praised the scorer. ‘Jesus, he didn’t half get up! It hit me on the side and fell nicely for me.’

(That goal and the one from the first game can be watched below).

There were other chances but when Marseille introduced the diminutive Ivan De La Pena to their midfield in the second half, the Blues had to do more defending. De La Pena hit the post with a free-kick and Ibrahima Bakayoko (no relation) had an overhead kick saved by Ed de Goey. There was a very late scare. Bakayoko missed from close range. When the whistle blew everything looked very rosy indeed.

Feyenoord had drawn at home to Lazio so Chelsea were now top of the group, and indeed a win away against the Dutch side the following week would send us through to the quarter-finals with one group game to spare.

‘We should have won by two or three goals, but Marseille played well,’ observed Vialli after the match.

‘Dennis Wise is playing really well at the moment consistently. He is an inspiration, a leader and a winner. Playing with three in midfield gave him the chance to get forward more.’

The Chelsea team De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro; Wise (c) Deschamps (Di Matteo 79), Morris; Poyet; Flo, Zola (Harley 79).
Unused subs Cudicini, Lambourde, Thome, Ambrosetti, Sutton.
Scorer Wise 27

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