Dare to dream?
Well, do we?
Let’s be honest we were all over ‘em weren’t we? Err…
If you’re reading this you probably won’t need me to tell you about our history against the team from Catalonia. From our 5-0 thrashing in a Fairs Cup replay in 1966 to being dumped out of the Champions League on away goals in 2009 it’s fair to say things are never dull when we play Barcelona.
Tactically most teams are pretty limited in terms of what they can do against Pep’s Globetrotters and we are no exception. I won’t attempt to provide too much insight into our tactics as it would’ve been clear to anyone that we aimed to keep a clean sheet and not worry too much about only having 29% of the possession. I will say though that accepting their level of possessional dominance can be helpful. Often trying to press them for the ball only serves to let them pull the opposition out of position and create spaces in the last third of the pitch. I’ve been critical at times this year when we have allowed lesser teams to dominate us in this way but I now know that it was all just a dress rehearsal for last night.
There would’ve been little point playing Torres as we didn’t have enough of the midfield to give him even our usual meagre service. Likewise playing Mata in the hole would’ve been futile. We had very little option but to play with Mikel, Lampard and Meireles in midfield. Essentially we played three holding midfielders, which is a new one on me but proved pretty useful with all three putting in big shifts. Ramires was deployed on the left presumably to help deal with the threat of Alves down that side. This tactical decision along with the brilliance of Cole was as effective as we could’ve hoped. Drogba did what comes naturally to him and last night I couldn’t possibly criticise a little diving and playing dead. Sure it drives me mad against Wolves or QPR when you just want him to get up, get on with it and go and win the game but it was absolutely essential that he bought us a little time and relieved the constant pressure. So no complaints there. Didier also did the other thing that comes naturally to him and that is scoring big goals in big games.
I must admit that I had been dreading this fixture. Our ability to make Fulham look like Barcelona at times last week did little to allay my fears. Even once we were underway there was little to calm the nerves. We didn’t come close to touching the ball for what seemed like the first 10 minutes. By the time we’d played half an hour I was desperate for a slash. When I got up to go Barca had the ball. When I came back they still had it. Just out of curiosity I asked the bloke next to me if we’d actually had the ball while I was gone. To which he replied… “Sort of, we got a throw in but they won it back.” That summed up the first half really. And the second half too. Somewhere in between however we managed to do the unthinkable. For all Barca’s brilliance it was Chelsea that provided one of the purest moments of footballing beauty of the game.
Lampard catches the best player ever [sic?] in possession and plays a fantastic ball to Ramires raiding forward on the left. Ramires chests the ball on for himself and splits three defenders with a left-footed pass across the box to Drogba. And the rest as they say…
A perfect counter-attack and a perfect end to the half. I must say that almost more astonishing than going in 1-0 up was the fact that the referee didn’t blow the whistle for half time as soon as Rami got free down the left. Perhaps he didn’t get the memo?
We got something of a chasing after that to be fair and had Barca taken a few of their chances the second-leg of this tie could’ve been a dead-rubber. As it was though we were treated to another memorable European night at Stamford Bridge. Despite not having any meaningful possession after the break we provided a defensive masterclass of sorts. We rode our luck definitely but that’s always a possibility against any side (especially this season). Against this lot it was a necessity. I’m pretty certain there isn’t a team in football that can stop this team from creating chances. We defended resolutely though. Ashley was excellent, apart from trying to step up and play Sanchez offside early on, he had a near faultless performance. Cahill and Terry were wonderful too. Without a striker as such on the pitch for Barca they were left to simply fill the spaces at the back. They did this manfully, as you’d expect. Cahill proved that he was a bargain and can compete at the highest level and his performance may have gone some way to cementing his starting place at the European Championships.
Messi did not manage to terrorise us. He gave us a few scares but the terror threat was merely substantial. Not severe. Not critical. Not this week anyway. Barca could’ve scored four or five but they didn’t. We managed to maintain our composure and discipline and avoided any red card/penalty-type disasters. We kept a clean sheet. Beat the best team I’ve ever seen in the flesh and gave ourselves a huge chance to progress next week. Could we get beaten 4-0 in the away leg? Of course. But defensively Barca are weak and if we can take advantage who knows?
Di Matteo may have taken a big step towards getting the poisoned chalice full-time. It’s difficult to fault anything he has done since taking over and seeing as our hunt for a new victim is still lacking (in my opinion) a stand-out candidate I’m leaning further and further towards just giving Rob the job. I’m certainly not getting too excited at the prospect of Laurent Blanc or Didier Deschamps and frankly who else is being seriously considered?
So another magical night against the World and European Club Champions ended after 93 minutes. The whole of the Bridge was on their feet and engaged in a rousing version of “Carefree, wherever you may be…” that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. What more can I say?
Do we dare to dream that we might be on our way to Munich?
We have to don’t we?
Just a little bit.
The press reports
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Facing Barcelona can be a daunting experience, especially when they have 73 per cent possession away from home as they did last night, but this is a Chelsea side that have seen it all. They have lost the Champions League final on penalties, they have lost a semi-final with virtually the last kick of the game and so when they stared down the magnificent ensemble that is Barcelona’s attacking force this was one team that was not about to flinch.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “To the delight of their highly vocal fans, Chelsea’s defending was immense. This was not anti-football; few of the game’s dark arts stained Chelsea’s play, barring Drogba’s occasional theatricality. There was little shirt-pulling, no filthy challenges, no baulking. Chelsea just defended well. If this had been AC Milan, Inter Milan or anybody else from the land of catenaccio, the headlines would have bubbled with paeans for such defensive virtues.”
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “Chelsea will take a narrow, yet precious, lead to Camp Nou. They played with exceptional levels of organisation, togetherness and structure and they can take great confidence from demonstrating that this brilliant, often mesmeric Barcelona side can be beaten, even if their opponents are too refined for Roberto Di Matteo’s team to start thinking of themselves as favourites.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A pulsating encounter at Stamford Bridge sees the Blues head to Spain next week with a slender 1-0 advantage after Didier Drogba’s strike late in the first half proved the difference on the night. It was a remarkable defensive performance by the Blues, carrying out Roberto Di Matteo’s instructions to a tee, and while we lived dangerously at times, it was a result our bravery merited in the end.”