Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo said before this game that his team would need to play two “perfect” matches against Barcelona if they are to reach the Champions League final. Well, they’ve managed the first one.
Gritty, solid, hard-working, stubborn, disciplined and determined are the best adjectives to describe Chelsea’s rearguard action. They also needed a bit of luck. But while Barcelona failed to convert any of a host of chances, Chelsea scored with the one opportunity they created – Didier Drogba’s goal giving Chelsea a slender advantage to take to the Nou Camp for the second leg of this semi-final.
The first slice of luck for Chelsea came in only the eighth minute when Sanchez lobbed Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal but the ball bounced back off the bar. Chelsea escaped again minutes later when Fabregas miscued a shot when only yards away from goal after Cech parried a shot from Iniesta.
Cech then saved a Messi header before Fabregas had another chance to give Barcelona the lead. This time he collected a pass from Messi and slotted the ball past Cech, only for Ashley Cole to clear the ball off the line.
Three minutes later, in added time at the end of the first half, and totally against the run of play, Chelsea scored with their first serious attempt on the Barcelona goal. Frank Lampard caught Messi in possession and fed Ramires wide on the left. The Brazilian raced forward before sending a perfect pass to Drogba, who swept the ball home left-footed past Barcelona keeper Valdes.
In the first half, Barcelona enjoyed over 70% of possession and pressed Chelsea constantly. While this domination continued in the second half, Barcelona also continued to waste all the chances they created. They probed the Chelsea defence constantly, seeking an opening, but in truth Chelsea survived until the last few minutes without many serious problems.
Pushing forward for an equaliser – and a crucial away goal – as the clock ticked down, Cech made another fine save, this time from a Puyol header. Then a Pedro shot struck the bottom of the post, only for Busquets to sky the rebound way over the bar. It was almost the last kick of the game.
This was not a pretty Chelsea performance. Chelsea didn’t try to play Barcelona at their own game – to do so would have been suicidal. They had a defensive masterplan, and executed it to perfection. And every Chelsea player played their part. They played with great togetherness, confidence and structure. And they showed that this revered, idolised, Barcelona side can be beaten.
Lionel Messi may have scored over 240 goals for Barcelona, but he has failed to net once against Chelsea in seven games. And Chelsea have now not lost to Barcelona in their last six encounters. It will take another “perfect” game for Chelsea to hold on to their narrow advantage in the return game at the Nou Camp and progress to the Champions League final. Barcelona remain strong favourites and Chelsea will need another immense display if they are to come out on top again after Tuesday’s second leg.