“The ball is round, the game lasts for ninety minutes”
The famous words of Sepp Herberger were never truer than yesterday night as Chelsea pulled off one of the greatest achievements in their history and in the Champions League’s.
Going into the game with a slender 1-0 lead, many still thought Barcelona would triumph and possibly even waltz into the final.
Chelsea set up in the exact same way as the first leg with the same starting XI. Two banks of four and five respectively with Didier Drogba the lone outlet playing as a 6th midfielder when in defence. Barcelona surprised most people by going with their 3-4-3/3-3-4 formation, a style that many believed would suit Chelsea. Their lack of width was exposed in the very first minute but it was perhaps the last time.
Doubters of Chelsea’s chances to reach the final would’ve had little reason to be swayed after the opening 43 minutes. Barcelona had not only overturned the deficit to take a 2-0 lead on the night, Chelsea captain John Terry was dismissed for a moment of complete stupidity against Alexis Sanchez, when he kneed the Chilean in the backside in an off the ball incident.
Both teams suffered injury casualties at the back as Cahill and Pique were both subbed for Bosingwa and Dani Alves respectively.
Sergio Busquets opened the scoring, Chelsea failed to clear their lines following a corner and Cuenca’s square ball across the box found Busquets to tap into an empty net in front of him. Following Terry’s dismissal, it only took Barcelona 5 minutes to make the numbers count. Messi ran at the defence and played in Iniesta to slide the ball past Petr Cech. It could’ve been worse in the first half if it wasn’t for the big goalkeeper playing at his best to deny Messi.
Hope was restored courtesy of another injury time goal when Frank Lampard played in Ramires whose first time lob over Victor Valdes was a moment of true Brazilian genius. His run wasn’t picked up by the Barcelona defence and for the second game running between the two clubs, Chelsea scored with their first shot on target. The Nou Camp so full of noise was silenced. Frank Lampard’s through ball should not be understated in the move but Ramires’ finish was Messi-esque.
Chelsea were lacking shape after Terry’s sending off but the half time break allowed them to regroup and the team began the second half in a formation similar to that deployed by Inter Milan. In the lead up to the game Petr Cech joked about receiving help from Mourinho in how to beat Barcelona, but the similarities were striking. Inter Milan had after all played the majority of the game with 10 men and dropped their striker back to help out in defensive duties. In 2010 it was Diego Milito, yesterday it was Didier Drogba and Chelsea played the whole second half with a 4-5-0 formation.
Within three minutes it appeared that the decision had back fired, Drogba was judged to have brought down Fabregas in the box but replays showed that the Barcelona midfielder dived to win the penalty.
Fate, destiny or Ivanovic’s scuffing of the penalty spot. Whatever you want to put it down to when Lionel Messi missed the penalty it looked like it was going to be one of those days for Barcelona and especially its star man.
The Barcelona siege continued for the next 45 minutes and waves of Barcelona attacks were valiantly defended by the 10 men of Chelsea. The odd chances did however fall to Chelsea. Didier Drogba had an audacious effort at goal having beaten two players, the Ivorian reached the halfway line before firing a shot at goal. Valdes sprawled across his box and dived to prevent the ball from sneaking in.
Petr Cech was in top form over the two legs and he continuously denied the Barcelona attackers in their efforts on goal. Rushing out to deny Cuenca and then a fingertip save pushed Messi’s shot on to the post.
In the dying minutes of the match sub Fernando Torres gave away possession on the edge of the box but Barcelona’s attempt to thread the ball through the remaining nine men failed and as Ashley Cole cleared the ball, the already famous piece of commentating by Gary Neville had begun.
“He’s in, he’s in!” were the words as the camera had panned out to Torres on the halfway line with the ball at his feet and only Valdes in his way. The striker hasn’t been at his best but he easily rounded Valdes to end Barcelona’s hopes.
Final whistle. Chelsea were through to Munich and Barcelona were sent crashing out. The team with 83% possession once again failed to convert that into chances and some of their players were left in tears whilst the Chelsea players had nothing but pure joy across their face and no one looked happier than interim manager Roberto Di Matteo.
It is quite impossible to pick out a stand out player yesterday and even over the two legs, everyone played their role magnificently well but I would like to mention three players that I thought were simply faultless. However just before I mention them, a quick word for Jose Bosingwa, there is no end to the criticism he receives but what a great performance when moved into the centre back role alongside Branislav Ivanovic, both right backs fulfilled their defensive duties just as well as Chelsea’s three natural central defenders.
Petr Cech proved that he is back to his best and that means there is no one better. His save against Lionel Messi was incredible. He marshalled his back line well over the two legs and in the absence of John Terry along with Frank Lampard is the most influential member of the team.
Ashley Cole had to defend against a number of different players bombing down Barcelona’s right hand side but he got the better of every single one of them, a goal line clearance in the first leg was combined with a brilliant clearance/assist for Torres in the second. He like Cech seems to have regained his form and remains one of the best full backs in the world.
Ramires has been a revelation for Chelsea, his £18million price tag seems more than justified. His engine is admirable, constantly working for the team and having played out of position for the majority of the second leg he was once again amazing. He set up Drogba’s goal in the first leg and his sublime chip yesterday was in the end the all important winning goal.
Some final stats:
Chelsea remain the one team Guardiola has failed to register a win against. The draw also marks Barcelona’s seventh without victory against Chelsea.
Lionel Messi has now gone 8 games without scoring a goal against Chelsea. Easily the longest period he has against any club. He did however grab his first assist against ‘The Blues’.
Roberto Di Matteo has still only lost one game as Chelsea manager and continues adding credibility to claims that he should be made the permanent manager.
I hope claims that this Barcelona team are the greatest team ever is put to bed, this isn’t even the best Barcelona team in the last 12 years. In fact, I wouldn’t put it in my top three. Their over reliance on Messi is not conducive with the World’s Greatest TEAM.
Sadly four players will miss out from the final. John Terry, Raul Meireles, Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires are all suspended but that didn’t stop the three latter players give it their all for ninety minutes. Ramires’ booking arguably angered him into his drive from defence to pick up Lampard’s through ball. Ivanovic’s booking may well be the reason Messi missed his penalty after the Serbian scuffed the penalty spot. Raul Meireles begged and pleaded not to be booked even hugging the referee to prevent him from reaching for his pocket.