In 2009 Stamford Bridge witnessed one of the most undeserved goals in Champions League history, sending Barcelona through. Looking at stats, it could be argued history repeated itself tonight and in 2012, it has just seen a goal that was equally unmerited. The problems with stats are that they never provide context, they’ll never reveal a spirited and dogged Chelsea performance that thoroughly warranted their 1-0 win.
The one dimensional appearance of Chelsea seemed negative, but was definitely necessary. Didier Drogba as a hustling target main was always going to be key, hold up play mixed with powerful surging runs was always going to be a recipe of trouble for the Barcelona defence.
Six minutes in and Drogba had already tested Carlos Puyol and Javier Mascherano by making bullying runs past them, only to find himself isolated and having to concede possession. It was clear any Chelsea chances were going to come from dynamic breaks with Midfielders supporting Drogba.
Two minutes later, however, Barcelona gave a preview of the class and technique that would be showcased. Short, one touch passes between Lionel Messi and Andreas Iniesta resulted in Alexis Sanchez drifting from Ashley Cole onto a chipped pass. Luckily his delicate lob over Petr Cech rebounded from the bar and was cleared out of play.
The Barcelona show continued with Messi gliding between three Chelsea players and finding Iniesta whose shot was parried by Cech into the path of Cesc Fabregas, who unbelievably sliced wide from eight yards. Sighs of relief mixed with cheeky ‘Arsenal reject’ shouts could be heard all around the Bridge.
The next Barcelona attack was reminiscent of a training ground exercise. After 40+ passes Cech was the first Chelsea player to touch the ball after Messi met a driven cross on the edge of the area. In probably the only instance Barcelona would have preferred Puyol to be finishing than Messi, his headed effort ended with a comfortable save for Cech.
The next wave of attack saw Cech beaten after yet another great move from the Catalonians. A sharp break and delicate pass from Messi found Fabregas deep in the Chelsea area, his acute chip over Cech seemed to be destined for the bottom corner but the ever present Ashley Cole was there to sweep off the line.
Drogba’s history with Barcelona doesn’t need an introduction, but it needs a finish and finish he did. Chelsea’s only real attack of the first half started with Frank Lampard dispossessing Messi in the Chelsea half and releasing a rampant Ramires down the left, his squared ball found the feet of the Ivorian who calmly slotted home. His theatrics in the first half were not only to disrupt the Barcelona rhythm, but to earn stoppage time to score. A clearly masterful plan.
The second half continued in the same fashion as the first. Three minutes into the restart Adriano’s curling effort was palmed away by Cech and on the hour mark, an excellent move saw Sanchez put wide a golden opportunity from six yards.
Slowly but surely as time went on, an even greater confidence was beginning to be found in the Chelsea players. Gary Cahill performed like a Champions League veteran and Ramires appeared everywhere on the pitch with the tenacity of energetic puppy defending his back garden, snapping at the heels of any Barcelona player who dared enter the Chelsea half.
For all their possession, Barcelona were restricted to only two more considerable chances. The first saw Puyol meet a Messi freekick with a glancing header but the brilliant Cech was equal to it. The second nearly provoked flashbacks of 2009. Pedro’s curling shot from the left had Cech and previous saviour Ashley Cole beaten but this time Chelsea were rescued by the post. A glimmer of European luck, maybe?
Despite tonight, the tie’s still not over. 1-0 is a fantastic result and will certainly be a confidence boost into the second leg but the biggest test is the Nou Camp next week. Barcelona may appear a team of footballing fantasy but if there can be a repeat of tonight’s performance, there’s no reason they cannot be brought back down to earth.