"Didier Drogba beat Petr Cech with a crisp volley that rippled the Chelsea net in front of the Shed. The Galatasaray fans, gathered to the left of the goal, celebrated wildly, but the Ivorian forward showed no emotion as he pushed his jubilant teammates away and walked slowly back to the half-way line, head bowed. It had to be Drogba. With a sublime, trademark strike the former Blues hero had knocked the club for whom he delivered Champions League glory in 2012 out of this season's competition."
A piece of "Back to the Future" football journalism that Blues supporters hope they will never read -- but in the gloriously unpredictable world of Chelsea, such tales of the unexpected, which have become such an integral part of the rich tapestry of a remarkable football club, should never be discounted.
When the draw for the Champions League round of 16 takes place in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday, the involved, the curious and the plain old romantic will cheer loudly should Galatasaray and Drogba find themselves paired with Jose Mourinho's outfit from London, SW6.
In this season's quest to win Europe's elite club competition, Chelsea made heavy work of qualifying from what looked, on paper at least, like a straight-forward group. Beaten twice by Swiss side FC Basel, who curiously failed to make it to the last 16, the Blues won their matches both home and away against Steaua Bucharest and Schalke 04 to finish top of Group E, thereby joining Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in the group stage winners' pot for the draw.
The runners-up pot is comprised of Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke 04, Arsenal, FC Zenit and AC Milan, and with the "country protection" rule omitting both English clubs from the list of Chelsea's possible opponents along with Schalke 04, played twice previously in Group E, there is a one in five chance that the Blues could be drawn to face Galatasaray ... and Drogba.
When speaking about the possibility after the Blues had beaten Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday night to win their group, Chelsea manager Mourinho had been swift to declare it was his preference, though his words had a cautious element wrapped around them. "It's not because the opponent is easy -- the opponent is very, very difficult; I played Galatasaray last season," he explained. "But I would love, as a Chelsea supporter, I would love to see Didier back and for Didier to leave a fantastic emotion in this stadium. I tell that because of him, I don't tell that because I think they are an easy opponent."
The Turkish side reached the last 16 courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Juventus in their final Group B match. Wesley Sneijder scored the winner five minutes from time, in a game that had originally been suspended after 32 minutes because of heavy snowfall in Istanbul. The reigning Turkish champions may have qualified, but they were soundly put in their place by Group B winners Real Madrid, who thrashed them home and away, scoring 10 goals in the process and conceding just two.
Chelsea have played Galatasaray twice previously. In the group stages of the 1999-2000 Champions League competition, the Blues won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge before notching an emphatic 5-0 victory in the Ali Sami Yen Stadium. The world has, of course, moved on since then and the Turks will not be the pushovers they once were -- particularly with a certain Didier Drogba in their ranks.
Of Chelsea's other possible opponents, Bayer Leverkusen would make for familiar foes. The Blues faced the German side, currently second in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich, in the group stages of the 2011-2012 competition, winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge before losing 2-1 in the Bay Arena. At that time, the London club were managed by Andre Villas-Boas and no one could have predicted how that particular Champions League campaign would end.
AC Milan are not the force they once were. Currently languishing mid-table in Serie A, the Rossoneri found themselves 22 points off the pace behind leaders Juventus going into this weekend's round of games. With Juve's failure to qualify for the last 16, Milan are their country's sole representatives in the group stage of this season's competition and that is perhaps an indication of how far the standard of club football has fallen in Italy. AC Milan, despite their heritage, might give Chelsea a lot less trouble than the other teams they could face.
The Blues faced Olympiacos, currently top of the Greek Super League, at the same stage of the 2007-2008 Champions League competition, drawing 0-0 in snowbound Athens before winning 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. That season Chelsea made it all the way to the final in Moscow where they would succumb in a penalty shootout to Manchester United.
Four hundred miles north of Moscow on the Baltic coast is the city of Saint Petersburg -- home to FC Zenit, Chelsea's final possible opponents in the last 16. An unknown quantity as far as the Blues are concerned, the two sides have never met previously in European competition. The Russian team qualified from Group G as runners-up to Atletico Madrid with just six points, having scored only five goals from a campaign which saw them draw all three of their home games. Whilst a trek to Saint Petersburg could be considered to be arduous, particularly for Blues supporters planning to make the journey to the Petrovsky Stadium, FC Zenit should, in reality, pose little threat to Chelsea.
Mourinho has made much this season about his side being in transition, about the profligacy of his current strikers and about the brittleness of his back line when it comes to defending set pieces, and yet Chelsea find themselves third in the Premier League, in the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup and the last 16 of the Champions League. Whilst the draw for the knockout phase of the UCL may well take place on Monday, the first leg of the ties are not scheduled to commence until Feb. 18, more than two months away.
Imagine if Mourinho resolves the issues that trouble the Blues at the moment. Imagine if he goes out and buys a world-class striker in the January transfer window. What then? The reality is that Chelsea will be a more forceful proposition come February, and whilst there will be sterner Champions League tests ahead this season, whoever they are drawn to play in the last 16 should be treated with respect but viewed as beatable -- and that goes for Galatasaray and the legend that is Didier Drogba.