Roman Abramovich’s dream of Champions League glory is alive but his Chelsea side were forced to dig deep into their reserves to see off Liverpool and secure safe passage to the last four.
The Russian brought in Guus Hiddink to steady a listing ship and the Dutch tactician has charted The Blues through choppy waters to a relative oasis of calm.
Calm, though, it was not at Stamford Bridge as Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead through Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso. Chelsea had the look of a punch-drunk boxer, but managed to clear their heads and a mistake from Jose Reina halved The Reds’ advantage and a stunning free kick from Alex leveled the scores on the night.
Chelsea caught Liverpool on the break 15 minutes from time and Frank Lampard lashed home to nudge his side ahead.
The goalmouth action was not done as Lucas fired home with the aid of a deflection off Michael Essien and Dirk Kuyt headed home to hand The Reds a 4-3 lead.
Chelsea were faltering but Lampard hit his second of the night to secure a 4-4 draw and a 7-5 aggregate success.
Both sides were shorn of their inspirational leaders, Steven Gerrard through injury and John Terry suspension, and it was a cagey rather than gung-ho start to the contest.
The first chance was fashioned by Liverpool and it really should have been taken. Dirk Kuyt drove in from the flank before laying a ball into the path of Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli demonstrated great vision by backheeling the ball into the path of Torres.
The movement of the Spaniard took him clear of Ricardo Carvalho but with the whites of Petr Cech’s eyes in his sights, he sliced his shot well wide of target.
With Chelsea showing little by way of attacking intent, Liverpool required inspiration and Aurelio provided in on 19 minutes.
There appeared little danger when the Brazilian stood over a free kick 25 yards out, nearer the touchline than the goal.
Cech was expecting a cross into the box and edged a yard too far, which was all the invitation Aurelio needed to fizz a curling effort in at the near post.
Following 20 minutes of relative calm, Liverpool suddenly had the bit between their teeth and it took a timely intervention from Branislav Ivanovic to deny Benayoun a clear shooting opportunity.
Within a minute, though, Ivanovic – the star of the first leg – had turned from hero to zero. Referee Luis Medina Cantalejo penalized the Serb for a foul on Xabi Alonso that received few protests but replays clearly proved him to be correct.
Alonso needed no second invitation and slammed the penalty beyond Cech, to level the scores at 3-3 on aggregate but with Chelsea ahead on away goals.
Guus Hiddink had seen enough and hauled off Salomon Kalou and two headers from Ivanovic provided some sort of threat to the Liverpool goal, but The Blues were all at sea at the back and Cech pulled off a fine save from a Dirk Kuyt header and was then fortunate to see his defense scramble the ball clear after he had made a complete mess of a cross.
The interval appeared to do little to settle Cech’s nerves as an ill-advised dash off his line put his side in trouble and if Aurelio’s cross had been a little more precise, it could have spelled real danger for Chelsea.
It appeared as if the goalkeeping jitters were contagious, as Reina gifted Chelsea a goal and a real confidence boost on 51 minutes.
Anelka deserves real credit for digging out a cross from wide on the right, as does Drogba for getting in front of his marker and touching the ball towards goal, but the ball should have been collected by Jose Reina but he somehow allowed the ball to squirm through his grasp and over the line.
The pendulum appeared to swing back Chelsea’s way and within seconds of Drogba planting a free kick a foot wide of target, Alex fired The Blues back on level terms on the night.
The Brazilian is one of the fiercest strikers of a dead ball and he made true contact from 30 yards to leave Reina grasping at thin air.
Chances were traded at both ends in the final 20 minutes, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres went close for The Reds, while Michael Ballack shot straight at Reina following superb work from Drogba.
Liverpool had to take risks in the final 15 minutes and were caught out. Ballack broke up play before playing Drogba in on the left side of the penalty box, the Ivorian drove the ball across the area and Lampard was on hard to fire the ball home.
Lampard’s goal did not ease the nerves, as Lucas fired home with the aid of a wicked deflection off Michael Essien and within a minute Kuyt had headed home to hand Liverpool the lead on the night.
One more goal would have taken Liverpool through, but Lampard grabbed his second of the night via both posts for a 7-5 aggregate success.
Barcelona lie in wait and if the two legs against the Catalans are anything like this, then we are in for a treat.