The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The resilience of Chelsea was formidable and it has preserved their hopes of a return to the Champions League final. A minor yet telling honour has been collected since they are the first visitors to keep a clean sheet at Camp Nou this season. Chelsea survived one vigorous penalty appeal and saw the substitute Bojan Krkic head over in stoppage time. After that, Petr Cech still had to block at the feet of another substitute, Alexander Hleb. This was, all the same, a highly practical exercise by the visitors, with no compunction shown about taking off Frank Lampard when the need was for fresh energy.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Terry was immense, a captain leading by example, the rock on which Barcelona’s celebrated attacking ambition foundered. He kept clearing danger in the air and on the ground and his example inspired all his team-mates. Alex impressed alongside him while Petr Cech made vital saves from Dani Alves and Alexander Hleb.”
The Times, Oliver Kay: “Amid all the eulogies to this Barcelona team of many talents, it was overlooked that they, like everyone else in Europe these days, struggle to find a way past the English. Throughout a compelling clash of cultures, skill against will, craft against graft, Chelsea never strayed from Guus Hiddink’s battle plan and, after riding their luck at times, they are now 90 minutes away from a second consecutive Champions League final against Barclays Premier League opposition.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “The tie, as predicted by Barcelona players and manager, will very much be decided in the second leg as a Chelsea rearguard action soaked up enormous pressure.”
So we’re back at the Nou Camp and are we worried? Yeah right. We’re Chelsea, a club who’ve experienced every possible up and down in the game since Roman took over and a club who seem to relish playing the pantomime villain or party-pooper at the Nou Camp. It may have been billed as Beauty versus the Beast or David versus Goliath or any other pathetic cliché designed to make Barcelona look like the untouchable Gods of European football and Chelsea the lambs to the slaughter (yep another cliché) but the Nou Camp hardly scares us anymore. We’ve been here so many times that it’s sort of our second home in Europe (alongside Anfield of course). Barcelona may play beautiful, Playstation-esque football with goals being their only concern but under Guus, we’ve shown that we can play a little bit as well and unlike Barca we believe that to win trophies you have to build from the back. But defences are so boring for some so the press concentrated on Guus and Pep’s claims that they’ll both be looking for goals. And on that front we looked a little short. Our threat would come from Drogba’s battering ram and the class of Lampard. Barca’s would come from the part-time defender Dani Alves, Spanish maestros of Iniesta and Xavi and the ‘Holy Trinity’ i.e. Henry, Eto’o and Messi. Some were predicting a battering, with the surprising odds of only 13/2 that Barca would score four tonight but the more astute amongst us would have gone for a tighter more disciplined match with the storming of Anfield fresh in our minds. I never believed that we’d repeat that epic performance in the quarter-finals but rewind a year and some of us could see that stopping Barca was far from impossible, just ask Manchester United.
Who’d be at left-back? Would it matter as Messi is just so damn good? Would Guus be true to his word and send the team out to attack? Well in the end there would be a surprise. Bosingwa did indeed slot in at left-back but Mikel was brought in for the lazy and misfiring Anelka (how many goals has he scored in 2009?). As the game kicked off it seemed as if we were playing in pairs all over the pitch. Alex and Terry kept the defence nice and narrow, Malouda and Bosingwa were told to shut down Messi and Alves, Ivanovic and Essien shut down Barca’s left wing, Mikel and Ballack sat deep to close down Iniesta and Xavi whilst Lamps and Didier were told to provide nuisance value around their centre-backs and Yaya Toure. And in the end it was a goal-fest worthy of its Tuesday night billing where 4-4 is the least we expect.
Actually the start of the match summed up the rest of the 95 minutes; utter dross. In the end as a spectacle the match was bollocks but in terms of achievement, it was brilliant. From the kick-off we managed to keep the ball for about 20 seconds before letting Barca spray it about and that was about it. We’d keep it for a few seconds, hoof it forward to an isolated Didier and see if our 10 men behind the ball, ultra-defensive, parking the bus, Everton style, negative (any other descriptions would be much appreciated) tactics would hold out. Every so often Barca would stop passing the ball to death and create a chance such as when Henry turned on the afterburners in the opening minutes and won a free kick from Ivanovic but I was killing myself with nerves or making a mess of my pants every time Barca had the ball, mainly because they weren’t doing anything with it. We set up camp at the edge of our box with all of players bar Didier and asked Barca to try and get through us and even though they had some very pretty moves, they hardly ever got into our box. Iniesta, Xavi and Henry were weaving their magic outside our box but it only ended up with a couple of long shots or some useless crosses as no-one seems to head the ball in Barca’s side. After 15 minutes it had developed into attack versus defence (not too difficult to guess which one we were) and after 30 minutes this reached almost laughable levels. We were resisting more Barca pressure as they passed, passed and passed again and the ball bobbled to Iniesta on the left hand side of our box. I counted eight of our players in our box with Didier tracking back to the edge of it. Twenty-one/twenty-two players were now in our half as Barca tried to find a gap in our defences but we stood firm and in the end the ball mostly ended up in the arms of Petr Cech after another timid Barca attack. One was still nervous because this was the mighty Barcelona, the Harlem Globetrotters of the Champions League and we should have no chance at withstanding their pressure. But looking at it rationally, one would see that we were doing pretty well. Our bus was still standing and Barcelona were growing more and more frustrated. The game was beginning to quieten down with the crowd getting annoyed at our tactics only screaming out as we committed yet another clumsy foul. At this point I’d like to bring up the ref’s performance. The nice ones amongst you may call it erratic but I’d call it Rob Styles-esque. On some occasions he was so obviously overawed by the crowd that some of our players were seen laughing at him but on others he was just plain wrong. He’d book our players for some innocuous fouls but let a replica Barca foul go (just see Alves’ trip on Malouda in the second half). And it wasn’t just us on the receiving end of his ‘questionable decision making’ with Barca being denied a pretty good shout for a pen in the second half.
You may notice that I’ve left someone out of the report so far – the genius that is Messi. That’s because he hadn’t done anything so far. He beat Bosingwa once with some searing pace to win a free kick but apart from that he seemed to have Ronaldo syndrome – he just hadn’t turned up in this massive game. He’d kicked the ball out twice with wasteful passes and blazed the ball over from the edge of the box after a nice one-two with Eto’o and he did show some flashes of brilliance by beating players for fun, but all his work was done far away from our goal and Guus’ tactics seemed to be working perfectly. We were beginning to feel more and more comfortable in our own half with the only problem being our impact in their half. So far it amounted to, well, nothing. Barca would keep the ball for two minutes and lose it to Cech. He’d hoof it downfield to Didier, who’d lose the ball and we’d repeat the whole charade for the next few minutes. As the half went on we began to drop dangerously deep with more players sinking into the safe haven of our penalty box. We needed to push out but we struggled to relieve the pressure and Barca were beginning to create more chances with Cech impressing by keeping out Henry and Iniesta. But then we sprung into life. Didier spooked Marquez into a mistake, drove forward with the ball and was one-on-one with Valdes. His first shot was well saved but with the goal gaping he should have powered in the rebound but instead he tried to go round the keeper and the chance was lost. That was our one big chance and we blew it. The rest of the half followed the same pattern as Barca kept the ball and we continued to keep them out. Cech’s pass completion rate was remarkable – 95% of his passes going to either Pique or Marquez but I wasn’t complaining. We came here to do a job and with the half-time whistle came the opportunity to reset, have an orange and a cup of tea and get ready to hold the fort for the next 45 minutes.
The opening of the second half brought much more joy. We’d made it out of our half and had even won a free kick as Malouda was hacked down by Alves (still no booking which I was crying out for as it would have got him banned from the second leg). Didier sent it over to Ballack who narrowly headed over. It was a good chance and despite missing it we did seem to be a little more positive in this half. Essien and Malouda were still tracking back but on some occasions one took the risk to stay forward in the hope we could spring a counter-attack and we did a couple of times but Didier kind of got in the way with a heavy touch or poor pass. It was a more fragmented opening with us seeing more of the ball and more silly fouls being committed. Luckily Barca began to get some injuries with Alex smashing Henry’s head in and Marquez collapsing with a suspected cruciate injury. Puyol quickly announced his arrival with a poor challenge on Malouda which resulted in a yellow card and a suspension meaning Didier will be up against Pique and Caceras in the second leg. The second half began to get a little boring as Barca were creating even fewer chances. As we seemed to be ignoring our best player (Frank), Barca followed suit as they avoided giving the ball to Messi of all players. They instead seemed to concentrate passing amongst a Xavi-Iniesta-Henry triangle which suited our defence. The referee was still having a shocker as he blew for a foul against Mikel despite him shielding the ball perfectly well from Toure and springing a counter-attack with four of our players sprinting forward. The crowd were quiet and we even began to hear the faint chanting of the 2,824 Chelsea fans perched at the top of the Nou Camp. The ITV commentators were even struggling to come up with anymore clichés regarding English teams in Europe and soon resorted to plugging some awful ITV programmes on the weekend (apparently there’s some fight going on between two thugs in some ring in a couple of days?). Nothing was going on but suddenly I was awoken from my slumber by some strange noise: “Frank Lampard is coming off for Juliano Belletti.” Fuck me that shocked me back into life. Frank may have been quiet but surely that was a wrong move. He’s the best midfielder in the world in my eyes and is the man you look to for a goal alongside Didier. He ran off applauding our fans but the camera later showed him looking pissed off on the bench and his departure seemed to wake up Barca. Eto’o stormed past Alex and Terry from the halfway line but his effort was brilliantly stopped by Cech who was having a blinder. Alves then swung over a beautiful cross for Bojan to surely head in from three yards out but he’d obviously been watching too many videos of Kalou and headed it over. And then with two of five extra minutes remaining, Hleb ran through with Alex appealing for offside but Ballack was playing everyone onside by lying injured in our box. Cech came to the rescue and saved Hleb’s effort and that was that. The final whistle was greeted with whistles, probably at our tactics, but we’d made it. We’d come for a 0-0, hoping for one big chance and that’s what we got. Usually I’d be ruing that miss but as Barca stepped it up in the last ten minutes we were lucky to escape unharmed but for sheer effort a 0-0 seemed about right.
- Petr Cech. Awesome. He saved us on numerous occasions and that penalty save has certainly helped him. ‘But he’s not been the same since he had his head cracked open’ and that may be true when coming for crosses but I’d rather blame Christophe Lollichon who seems to have told him to punch every cross. Despite his punching he was brilliant tonight.
- The defence. Bosingwa was meant to get bamboozled like Lell did for Bayern but he kept his head and tried to nick the ball from Messi as soon as he got it and if he couldn’t he simply drove him inside where we had masses of bodies to stop him. Terry and Ivanovic were brilliant and even Alex impressed me. Despite getting outpaced by Henry and Eto’o he was a rock at centre back and coped much better with the massive Nou Camp pitch than I thought he would.
- The midfield. Were told to do a job and did it brilliantly. They may have left Didier isolated but tonight was about getting a result and because of their hard work we got a good one. I don’t think it’ll work in the second leg where we’ll need more penetration and creativity as 0-0 and penalties will most definitely send us out.
- The crowd. The Barca crowd always make the stadium look brilliant at the kick-off but our 2,824 have to be praised for even getting heard in the last five minutes.
- Didier Drogba. Harsh I know because he was given precious little service and dealt with the barrage of Cech kicks as best as he could but when we needed him to finish he couldn’t. It was a repeat of the Anfield game but in the semi-finals you won’t get as many chances to make up for your mistakes. He’s a brilliant striker, probably the best at playing the lone role but when it comes to finishing I’d choose Torres or Villa any day.
- Barcelona. They believe in their footballing principles but against a professional, physical and pragmatic bunch like us they needed something more. The brilliance of Messi was crowded out and their tempo was too slow to ever really trouble us. I’m not getting cocky but on the small Stamford Bridge pitch they won’t have the chance to move us from side to side all night and we should have more of the ball.
- The Lampard substitution. I just don’t know why he was the one to come off. He’s so important to us and even though it enabled Essien to move into the middle, Belletti hardly touched the ball and Lamps could have given us that much needed away goal from a set-piece delivery, a 30 yard shot or a brilliant assist. I’d never take him off but who am I to tell Guus what to do?
- Petr Cech – 9/10 – Flapped at a cross early on but from then on he was brilliant. May not be back to his 2004/5 best but he’s certainly past the Bolton-Liverpool nightmare.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 8/10 – A rock who was only beaten by Henry once. With Ashley back next week I hope he keeps his place ahead of Bosingwa.
- Alex – 7/10 – Clattered into a few of their players and was beaten for pace a couple of times but he’s slowly growing on me. Always gives his all and loves to defend simply by smashing the ball away or heading it into touch.
- John Terry– 8/10 – A brilliant performance where he had to constantly marshal the troops and keep his concentration all night. Slowly getting the feeling that he’s destined to lift that trophy in Rome.
- Jose Bosingwa – 7/10 – Left-back? No problem for him. Still don’t like his casual distribution but he kept Messi quiet so job done.
- John Obi Mikel – 6/10 – Still looks a little out of his depth at this level. Patrolled the midfield well but when on the ball he looks clumsy and a silly square ball to Iniesta nearly ended in disaster.
- Michael Essien – 7/10 – Never stopped running and his pace, power and mobility were key in covering the grass on this massive pitch.
- Michael Ballack – 7/10 – Didn’t really see him but his class comes through every so often whether it be a clever dive to win free kick or a class ball out to the wings to relieve some of our pressure.
- Frank Lampard – 7/10 – I’ll give him a 7 despite getting subbed. He sprung a couple of great counter-attacks with some lovely touches and should never have been taken off. It wasn’t his fault that we seemed to avoid giving him the ball.
- Florent Malouda – 6/10 – Did a job for the team on the left wing but he forgot to track back on a couple of occasions and his final ball was pretty poor tonight.
- Didier Drogba – 6/10 – Held it up pretty well but when he had his big chance he blew it. Can’t afford to mess it up next week.
- Guus Hiddink – 8/10 – Came for a 0-0 and got it. Nullified their threat perfectly and would have given him a 9 or 10 but took one off for his subbing of Lamps.
Man of the Match
It could only be Cech. The defence were rock solid but they let Barca through a couple of times and he was there to save us.
So as a Chelsea fan how do I sum it up? It was a job well done really. To the neutral it may have been a dire spectacle but for us it was gripping stuff! Actually it wasn’t really. I was nervous at kick-off but it soon dawned on me that there was absolutely no chance of us getting battered as Barca struggled to get past our 10 men behind the ball tactic. We may have got into their half on precious few occasions but tonight was about staying in the tie and we are. The second leg will be very different though. Ashley will be back to give us more balance but we have to go for a goal and parking the bus won’t work next week. I fear for us if they score first but as I mentioned earlier, this year feels more and more like our year. After another disastrous start to the season we are on the verge of reaching another Champions League final and should also wrap up the FA Cup final which would turn this season into a great one. We may be packed with OAPs according to Fergie but that experience and nous has served us pretty well thus far and who’s to say that we can’t win the biggest prize of them all?