Chelsea belief blind-sides Barcelona
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
More than once it looked all over for Chelsea FC at the Camp Nou but amazing grit and just a little luck helped them to a sensational semi-final elimination of FC Barcelona.
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When FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC are on the same pitch, thrills are as guaranteed as a Camp Nou full house. The last ten minutes of the first half was special, however, even by their standards.
Although both Gary Cahill and Gerard Piqué had already been forced off injured, it was otherwise business as usual from the first half – Barcelona passing round Chelsea only to be denied at the last. Then the unlikely combination of Isaac Cuenca and Sergio Busquets ended the home frustration on 35 minutes, and the mayhem began.
Barely had Chelsea regrouped when captain John Terry was dismissed, and a Lionel Messi-inspired second from Andrés Iniesta was inevitable, the home side having effectively switched to a 2-3-5 formation of yore. It seemed there could be another goal in the minute or so before half-time, but few expected Ramires to get it, especially as he had just been booked meaning a final suspension if Chelsea made it. It was a chip worthy of Messi and a goal worthy of winning the tie.
Then came half-time, and then the Messi penalty miss. If ever there was a sign that it was not Barcelona's night that was it, especially when Daniel Alves had a strike ruled out for offside. Even Fernando Torres ensured that Josep Guardiola did not have the slight satisfaction of a first victory, even a Pyrrhic one, against Chelsea.
Just as there is no secret about how Barcelona play – the question is not what you have to stop but how on earth you do – so the reason for Chelsea's remarkable success with ten men and a patched-up defence is clear. The formation by the end was practically 9-0-0, but it did not make for a dull game. Barcelona's quick passing was exciting, but so was the sheer energy and determination of the Chelsea players to dismantle every move.
It is hard to pick out individuals, but Didier Drogba's spells as an auxiliary full-back, and the problems he caused Barcelona every time he surged forward on a one-man attack, were just as important as his goal at Stamford Bridge. Ashley Cole's performance as well ensured that Barcelona avoided his flank whenever possible.
With Terry, Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanović all suspended for the final, it will be another uphill struggle for Chelsea whoever they face in Munich on 19 May. But for the London footballing aristocrats reinvented as brave underdogs for this memorable night, that may be how they want it.