After three first-leg defeats for England’s other clubs in the round of the last 16, Chelsea at least ground out a result and are strong favourites to make it into the quarter-finals – probably on their own as far as the Premier League is concerned.
But after Fernando Torres, one of the strikers manager Jose Mourinho was bemoaning this week, gave them an early lead with his sixth goal in five Champions League starts, Chelsea wasted a hatful of good opportunities to bury this tie.
They were punished when Aurelien Chedjou capitalised on sloppy marking at a corner to equalise after 64 minutes. But Mourinho will surely feel this should be enough to take into the second leg.
The rest of the round as far as English football has been concerned had been pure carnage. Three games played by three of the Premier League’s finest, three defeats, no goals scored, six conceded.
So virtually anything bar a disaster that Chelsea could manage in the Turk Telecom Arena last night was bound to be an improvement.
And with Galatasaray going into the tie with manager Roberto Mancini saying that Chelsea had an 80 per cent chance of progressing, home hopes hardly seemed high on the Bosphorus.
Mourinho is bidding to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs. Old rival Mancini has never made it past the quarter finals.
It was far from the old, infamous Ali Sami Yen stadium, the renowned “Welcome to Hell” arena. The Telecom Arena is a modern, gleaming edifice on the outskirts of Istanbul – but there was still plenty of noise, plenty of the usual fanaticism.
And there was 35-year-old Didier Drogba, Chelsea’s hero of that epic night when they won the trophy in 2012 and now up against them in the orange and red of Turkey’s champions – and with 10 goals in 27 games this season.
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In contrast, into Mourinho’s team for his first start since January 11 came Torres, one of the goal-shy strikers he embarrassingly and inadvertently bemoaned in public this week. Eight goals to his name.
The Turks almost gifted Chelsea a goal in the third minute, as goalkeeper Fernando Muslera’s kick dropped straight to Willian, but his effort towards an empty net was deflected just wide.
But six minutes later they were ahead as Cesar Azpilicueta galloped onto Andre Schurrle’s pass and squared for Torres to stab home.
English’s football’s first goal of the round – in fact the first in Europe for seven hours 58 minutes.
The Drogba-John Terry battle between the two old friends was a no-quarter-given, bare-knuckle contest. But there was no question who was winning.
Chelsea should have added to their score when Schurrle broke down the right and crossed, but Ramires lifted his shot over the bar.
Galatasaray replied as Izet Hajrovic shot, but Petr Cech saved comfortably. But the Chelsea keeper then had to move smartly to tip Alex Telles’ low cross round the post.
Burak Yilmaz then had the ball in the net, but the Galatasaray players and crowd were furious as referee Carlos Velasco disallowed it having stopped play to book John Terry for throwing the ball away at a throw-in.
Chelsea’s sheer pace on the counter attack was catching the Turks out, but all too often the final ball was the wrong one, and while it was only 1-0 there was always an edge to the game.
Another chance on the break went begging as Uruguayan keeper Muslera tipped Torres’ shot round the post.
Felipe Melo headed over as Galatasaray tried to impose some control, although Chelsea, driven on by Terry, looked in command. But then Drogba for once won the battle in the air and nodded down, and somehow Melo manged to hit a post from point-blank range.
Then from a corner carelessly given away, Wesley Sneijder curled the ball into the area and centre-back Chedjou was totally unmarked as he scored.
Now the nerves showed, as Willian lost the ball on the edge of his own area and Telles forced Cech to superbly tip his shot over the bar.
Mourinho threw John Obi Mikel on to shore things up, but it was a tight and tense last 20 minutes, when it should all have been calmness and serenity.
GALATASARAY: (4-4-1-1): Muslera; Eboue, Chedjou, Balta (Kaya 46), Telles; Hajrovic (Kurtulus 31), Melo, Inan, Sneijder; Yilmaz, Drogba (Bulut 80).
Booked: Inan. Goal: Chedjou 64.
CHELSEA: (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Ramires, Lampard; Schurrle (Mikel 67), Willian, Hazard (Oscar 90); Torres (Eto’o 68).
Booked: Terry, Schurrle, Cech, Ramires. Goal: Torres 9.
Referee: C Velasco (Spain).