They say the score never lies, but they also say there’s a first time for everything. Barcelona’s 80% possession, 814 passes and 24 shots were not enough to stop Chelsea becoming only the third team to beat them this season. And how valuable a defeat it could be. Barcelona’s counter-attacking fluidity was met by Chelsea’s defensive doggedness, stifling any attack and counter-attacking to great effect.
The big dilemma for Roberto Di Matteo would have been inevitably Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres. Though the latter has netted two consecutive braces in his last two games against Barcelona, it was the 33-year-old Ivorian who got the nod. Cahill came in for the injured Luiz, with Meireles in for Kalou.
The match looked ominous for Chelsea from the start, with the Blues not managing a touch of the ball for the first 77 seconds, such was Barcelona’s “total football” brilliance.
The Spanish side’s ability was shown with Iniesta’s lofted ball over the back line, but Sanchez could only hit the crossbar. Cue huge sighs from Terry and the former Bolton man.
Chelsea did have two chances sandwiching Sanchez’s, however, but Drogba’s touch was too heavy on one, and slow met slower on another, with Puyol managing just to get back to prevent Drogba having a one-on-one opportunity with Valdes.
Barcelona came back again. A last-ditch tackle by Cole was met with another chance: Iniesta’s drive was parried by Cech into the path of Francesc Fabregas, but his miscued shot drifted harmlessly wide.
The former Arsenal man had said pre-match that Chelsea were a “long-ball, counter-attacking” team, but though he knew Chelsea’s strengths, his side rarely listened to his advice.
And how they were made to pay.
Didier Drogba, one of the world’s finest at times, spent the majority of the half lying on the floor, time-wasting to great effect, but when he earned himself two minutes of added time for all his troubles, he was to make full use of it.
Frank Lampard dispossessed, of all people, Lionel Messi. Didier Drogba ran one way, Ramires darted another. Spotting Ramires was free with Dani Alves not able to make up the ground having advanced so far forward, Lampard sprayed the ball out wide. Ramires’ chest control looked unconventional, but when he spun and passed to Drogba, the Ivorian was free to strike home.
Mascherano and Puyol were both drawn to Ramires and the ball, and the Ivorian, so frustrating at times, wheeled away in celebration. The Chelsea goal had come against the total run of play.
Chelsea has never lost a Champions League semi-final at home, whilst Barcelona have never managed to overturn a semi-final first-leg defeat. Would this be the night for Chelsea?
If they could withstand another 45 minutes of majestic football. Barcelona played with extra urgency, hurt by the late goal. Adriano cut in, but Cech was equal to his curler, whilst Gary Cahill made a fantastic block on Messi.
Cahill was once again at the right place in the right time, countlessly bringing the Barcelona attacks to a stop. The England international, who was only half a year ago fighting relegation for Bolton, was showing no signs of nerves coming up against the best side in the world.
Messi, who Chelsea had kept quiet all game, was beginning to find some space, but if it were not Gary Cahill, it would be John Terry blocking the shot.
As the match wore on, both managers felt it would be an opportune moment to bring on some fresh legs: Pedro replaced Sanchez, whilst Kalou was introduced for Mata, who was ineffective in the defensive display Chelsea were playing.
Barcelona’s urgency soon turned to desperation, Iniesta’s pass was surprisingly wayward, but when Barcelona did have a real chance, Cech was always equal to it, in this case denying Puyol from a Messi free-kick with a stunning save.
Chelsea were content with current proceedings and Bosingwa came on for Ramires, with Ivanovic moving more centrally, making it a 5-4-1 for Chelsea.
But there was drama until the end. Kalou tried to play his way out of trouble, and when Iniesta stole the ball, Barcelona launched one last time. He passed to Messi, but Terry got in a critical interception, but when the ball found Pedro, it was destined for the back of the net, but the post spared Chelsea’s blushes.
Busquets then summed up their entire performance, blazing over after the ricochet.
Chelsea have not been beaten by Spanish opposition in European competitions in the last 13 years. But in a Camp Nou atmosphere, that could still yet change.