Sometimes you get what you deserve in football; this was one of those nights. FC Barcelona slumped to a 1-0 defeat against an inspired Chelsea outfit, and despite what the stats may show, Barcelona were not the better side. They had more of the possession, took more shots, and even won more corners, but crucially, Chelsea scored more goals. Not only that, but Chelsea made more tackles, blocked more shots, they wanted this game more than Barcelona, so they got it. Barcelona started well, dominating possession and could have took the lead on nine minutes when Andres Iniesta played Alexis Sanchez through on goal, but the Chilean hit the bar with his effort. In fact, had another chance to score on the 16th minute as Iniesta’s shot was parried into Cesc Fabregas’ path by Petr Cech, but the former Arsenal man sliced it with the open goal at his mercy. Cesc also had a lob cleared off the line by Ashley Cole before Didier Drogba struck just before half-time. The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, but again, Barcelona couldn’t break through the stubborn Blues defense, although they could easily have equalised in the dying seconds with Pedro striking the post before Sergio Busquets skied the resulting rebound. This was Chelsea’s night; Guardiola just needs to make sure that we see what Barcelona can do next Tuesday. After all, it is just half-time in this tie.
As per usual, Guardiola surprised us with his team selection, opting for a centre-back pairing of Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol with Adriano given a start at left-back. Offensively, Cesc Fabregas retained his place from the weekend win over Levante while Andres Iniesta replaced Pedro on the left-wing. Subsequently, that left-wing only accounted for 26% of the Blaugrana attacks, effectively wasting a flank when Branislav Ivanovic was there for exploitation.
Both sides started brightly, pressing each other high up the field looking to force the other into a mistake. Chelsea nearly created the first chance of the match, and in the most simple way as well, with Petr Cech launching the ball upfield towards Drogba, but the Ivorian’s first touch let him down and the ball rolled through to Valdes. Early warning signs though for Barca.
However, while Chelsea were making their presence felt, Barcelona also created one or two chances of their own, with Andres Iniesta at the hub of it all. Picking the ball up in midfield (which was a minor miracle might I add) Iniesta played a wall-pass with Leo Messi before lifting the ball over the Chelsea defense for the arcing run of Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean had done well to escape Cole and stay onside, but his finish let him down with the ball rebounding off the bar rather than nestling in the back of the net.
16 minutes on the clock and Barcelona were at it again, Lionel Messi this time the architect, dribbling at the Chelsea defense taking three of four defenders with him, before his back-heel set up Andres Iniesta for a shot at goal. The Spaniard gave it his best with a low, driven effort that Cech could only parry, and when the ball fell to Cesc Fabregas, you would have bet your life savings that the ex-Arsenal man was about to break the deadlock. Well, maybe a few months ago, but not now as he sliced the ball towards the right-hand side of the area and Dani Alves, and from that point onwards, the chance dissipated. What a chance it was, Barcelona should have been 1-0 up.
Messi’s header from the edge of the area was as close as Barcelona got to a goal in the remainder of the half, purely because Cesc’s chip over Cech was simply too weak to ever truly threaten the goal and Ashley Cole got back in plenty of time to clear it off the line. Then came that Chelsea goal.
It was a work of art, and it all started because Lionel Messi lost the ball in midfield to Frank Lampard. From there, Lampard did superbly well just to keep his head up and survey the scene, while his pass to release Ramires down the left-hand side was simply perfect. Alves was somewhere up field, with no chance of tracking back, so it was down to Xavi to keep pace with the Brazilian. Unsurprisingly, Ramires won. He surged down the left-hand side, and while his cross wasn’t the best in the world and could have been cleared by Mascherano if not for his slip, it did reach its intended target: Didier Drogba. Even the finish was a little fortuitous, as he sent the ball at Valdes who just failed to parry it clear, but it didn’t matter. Chelsea had struck just before half-time and were in the lead. They kept that lead for the rest of the game; this goal won them the match. Just for that, it will go down as one of the great counter-attacking moves.
The second half made for dismal viewing if you were a Barcelona fan, with blocked shots galore and one or two decent efforts mixed in, such as Adriano’s curling effort from just outside the area. However, the best chance of the half arguably fell to Alexis Sanchez, but the Chilean somehow fired wide from less than six yards out. I admit, he was under some pressure, but one would expect a professional footballer to at least hit the target in that situation, let alone a £20 million striker. One thing’s for sure, David Villa would have done a lot better...(we miss you David!)
Pedro was brought on for Alexis, Thiago Alcantara replaced Cesc Fabregas while Xavi made way for Isaac Cuenca, but whatever Barcelona did, they could find a way through. Carles Puyol’s header from a Messi free-kick was clever, but even then Cech was equal to it. Chelsea seemed unbeatable, that was until the last minute...again.
With the Iniestazo firmly in mind, Barcelona were pushing forward in frantic search of an equaliser, and boy did they come close. Lionel Messi was at focal point again, driving forward and feeding Busquets who in turn back-heeled the ball towards the Argentine but before Messi could apply the finish, the ball was slid away by a Chelsea defender. However, that was only as far as Pedro, who struck it first time, low towards the Chelsea goal. This was a man who had scored in a Champions League final, a Clasico and countless other important matches, it seemed destined to be another one of those moments; one that would have altered the headlines so dramatically, but it wasn’t to be. The ball struck the post; Busquets followed up and launched the rebound into the crowd. There wasn’t time for any more football, Chelsea were the victors, 1-0 on the night, but rest assured, Barcelona will be back next week looking to book their place in the final. The Camp Nou is always a different proposition, and with a wider pitch and nigh-on 100,000 die-hard Culés in support, this tie is far from over.
But before we can get to that return leg, there is the small matter of La Liga: it’s make or break time for FC Barcelona, with Real Madrid coming to town for El Clasico. More than ever before, Visca el Barca!