The star on a strangely subdued evening at Stamford Bridge may have been Gianfranco Zola, who was at his twinkly best, but the crucial performance in Wednesday’s goalless draw came from the Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. When Zola hit the post Abbiati forced him wide and was alert enough to collect the rebound; when the striker broke through minutes later he saved well low to his left and in the final minute he dived dramatically to palm away a shot from Petrescu. Throughout he dealt admirably with the few crosses delivered by a wing-less Chelsea side.
Abbiati, who was making his European debut, broke into the Milan team halfway through last season after the veteran Sebastian Rossi was sent off. His performances kept Rossi out – and he was apparently a target of Manchester United before they signed Massimo Taibi. Like team-mates Paolo Maldini and Demetrio Albertini, he was born in Milan: compare and contrast to a Chelsea side containing only one Englishman.
Despite being mostly on the defensive Milan remained relatively comfortable and one sensed that had Chelsea scored they would have rapidly raised their game. A point suits them fine and should they defeat Galatasaray on Tuesday, they will be halfway to qualification. For that game the Brazilian Serghino, who has been their most impressive player this season, is likely to be restored to the line-up and George Weah will be back from suspension.
Late Wednesday night they could afford to be charitable, Maldini saying about Gianluca Vialli: ‘He looked really good to me in the role of coach; he seems perfectly comfortable. We suffered. Their aggressiveness put us in trouble, even if we expected it.’
Chelsea, meanwhile, travel to Berlin to play Hertha, who surprisingly took a two-nil lead in Istanbul before having to settle for a point. If they fail to win things will start to become tense.