By Graham Hunter in Monaco
Despite the long spell during which it looked as if this UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg was going to teach the younger coach a lesson in waiting his turn to succeed at the highest level, AS Monaco FC coach Didier Deschamps emerged the winner in a tactical battle with Claudio Ranieri.
Match of contrasts
The joy of this semi-final, at least in the first leg, was always going to be discovering whether, at this level, the exuberant inexperience of Monaco or the richly assembled freshness of Chelsea FC would hold the upper hand.
The visitors boasted two previous winners of this competition in Marcel Desailly and Claude Makelele, while Mario Melchiot, Hernán Crespo and Juan Sebastián Verón had all previously played in semi-finals. Moreover, victories in all five of their away Champions League games this season seemed to point to more success for the English side.
Champions League success
Add to that the craft and dignity under pressure which Italian manager Ranieri has shown this season and there seemed little reason to suspect that Chelsea's European season might be torn apart by the French side. However, Monaco had Champions League-winning experience of their own in the shape of Fernando Morientes, while Deschamps appeared in three finals as a player.
Despite the confident nature of Monaco's defeat of Real Madrid CF in the last round there was an unmissable sense that this was a sterner test for Deschamps' well-crafted unit. If that was the early impression it was only fuelled by Chelsea's ability to cope with initial adversity.
In their first Champions League semi-final, the English side suffered an early setback as Dado Pršo headed the home side in front, but fought back impressively. Ranieri's decision to start Crespo instead of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink proved to be a key factor in his side's comeback.
With Makelele the dominant force in midfield, adding precision and intelligence where everyone was prioritising quantity over quality, Chelsea worked their way back into the match with a tenacity that has epitomised Ranieri's reign at Stamford Bridge. However, although Crespo side-footed his side level midway through the first half, the visitors were never in control of the match in the first period. Then Ranieri went for broke.
All season in England he has been dubbed 'The Tinkerman', an affectionate nickname for his unshakeable belief in the benefits of squad and team rotation. Unfortunately, the same intuition which backed his use of Crespo played against him after half-time when he introduced Verón - who only recently returned to action having been sidelined since early November - in place of Jesper Grønkjær.
Then, as soon as Monaco's Andreas Zikos was sent off, Hasselbaink replaced Dutch defender Mario Melchiot. Every neutral swooned for Ranieri's attempt to finish the tie off - every football fan who understands the normally cautious manager's mentality feared for his luck. The Italian abandoned his basic, safety-first principles and opted to go for broke. It proved a mistake.
Deschamps sat on the opposite bench, younger and less experienced as a coach but with a remarkable track record as a player behind him. Having won all the major honours with club and country, this is the season when the former FC Nantes Atlantique, Juventus FC, Chelsea and Valencia CF player has shown that he is a coach to be reckoned with.
With the evidence growing that Chelsea's numerical advantage was not playing into the hands of the away team, Morientes continued his wonderful season in continental competition by thumping Monaco's second goal.
Moments later Deschamps shrewdly introduced Shabani Nonda and the Congolese striker almost instantly did for his side what Ranieri had hoped Hasselbaink might have done for Chelsea, touching in another goal. The French coach may be the younger, and a decisive second leg in London remains, but Deschamps left the Stade Louis II having given the impression that the final, once again, awaits him.
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