For the longest time, this looked to have shutout written all over it. Thomas Tuchel’s side produced a controlled, sensible performance that felt like a word to prospective opponents in the last four of Europe’s premiere club competition. This is a team that just gets stuff done and either Real Madrid or Liverpool are about to find that out.
There was a late injection of jeopardy when Nanu’s cross from the right was met by a breathtaking acrobatic effort from Taremi, which rippled the far corner of the net. By then, we were into the fourth of four added minutes at the end of the 90. This was a 1-0 in 0-0’s clothing.
Can a subdued defeat be classed as a professional display? In this instance, from Chelsea’s perspective, it can. Because while the cards were stacked in their favour with that 2-0 lead from the first leg, this tie was not decided. But with the groundwork laid in Seville last week, the cement was applied in west London to set in stone.
The cushion of Chelsea’s two away goals were a couple stones in the shoe for Porto that they could not shake loose. Even given the aberration of the last game at Stamford Bridge where Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion found five goals, the fact that the previous six home games under Tuchel were all clean sheets did not bode well for the three or more Sergio Conceicao’s outfit needed on the night. It did not bode well that a recent trend coming into this fixture had Porto winless in seven meetings against English opposition in the Champions League. Make that eight now.
For one night only, roles were reversed. The Portuguese side have operated in the Champions League as counter-attacking fault-finders but had to assume the unfamiliar role of tempo-setters. And to Chelsea’s credit, they assumed the role of disruptors better. Perhaps the most engaging nugget on Tuesday night was that there was no reason for the neutral to take their eyes off the events in Munich, where Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain were playing out the second part of their epic.
Chelsea’s back four, specifically the wealth of experience between the centre-back pairing of Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva, ensured any nonsense was kept to a minimum. Ahead of them was the ever willing N’Golo Kante, whose class on the ball and ability to draw fouls and administer few ensured the stop-start nature of this fixture was very much at the host’s disrection.
Porto could not muster much from their 53 per cent possession in the first half. The most notable chance beyond their two shots on target in the opening 45 came via an error from Edouard Mendy, whose awry pass went straight to Jesus Corona. His shot was blocked out for a corner by Jorginho.
The second half was more of the same. Stodgy and bitter, as per Chelsea’s doing, who also had the best of what chances there were. Christian Pulisic should have connected better with a cross on 54 minutes, an opportunity that could have emphatically put the tie to bed. A well-timed block from Porto right-back Wilson Manafa prevented Mason Mount from opening the scoring three minutes later.
Taremi’s introduction for Marko Grujic with just under half an hour to go gave Porto an extra attacking threat. The Iranian was immediately into the fray with a header inside the box, but one tame enough for Mendy to fall to his left rather than dive to prevent it nestling into the far corner.
From that point onwards, there was nothing Porto could do beyond play out the remainder of the game at their opponents’ behest. At times, it felt like torture: a circle of hell where it didn’t matter what they wanted to do, nothing would bring them joy. Heels were clipped, counters engaged to have those in white shirts desperately chasing those in blue.
As the visitors slowed to walking pace, Chelsea had opportunities to notch a third overall: Pulisic spurning it again, this time in the 92nd minute when he was set through but could not get his finish beyond an onrushing Agustin Marchesin.
Nevertheless, Porto cracked on, and Taremi’s heels-over-head volley gave them the merest of sniffs. But really, the only question it asked was why he did not get on sooner, perhaps even start. Porto will depart Seville wondering all that and why they were unable to give more when it mattered most. And perhaps when they revisit this match they will find acceptance in the fact they couldn’t because, quite simply, Chelsea did not let them.