All fans know that sometimes you have to take a result on the chin. Last night it was our turn. What is pointless is debating the red card. Once the referee makes his decision, that’s it. Some you agree with, some you don’t. There was a worse, more reckless tackle in the game, which got a yellow card. And some Barcelona players sportingly applauded the dismissal, goading Del Horno as he left. That’s football.
Despite the result these big European games are always special. Club football doesn’t really get much better than the knockout stages of the Champions League. Okay, we’ve most likely been knocked out but I am still in awe of the competition. These are the best players in the world, playing at an exceptional level. How many national teams would beat Barcelona, or Juventus? Not many.
As with last year the game pivoted on two chances, one missed, one taken. Last year Iniesta broke into the Chelsea area, got behind our defence but failed to score from a difficult angle. Not much more than a minute later John Terry had powered home the decisive fourth goal from a header. Last night Drogba got behind their defence but failed to score from an equally tight angle. From the resulting corner Barcelona broke up-field, where Eto’o scored the decisive goal with a firm header. Uncannily similar.
The margins at this level are small, one slight mistake, one missed half chance, bang, you’re out. Bye bye till next year. Tough to take when it goes against you, but that is what makes these knockout stages so exciting. I do believe we have a chance in the Nou Camp, but I’d say nine times out of ten that Barcelona would go through from this position.
The way Barca play does mean there will be opportunities. Even with a one man advantage, playing away from home, Barca were still caught short handed at the back a few times. A little more composure from us could have seen them concede more than the one goal they did. The last 30 minutes were played as if this was a one off tie, being decided on the night.
Ronaldinho is a pleasure to watch, undoubtedly the best in the world right now. Unlike some of his team mates he steered clear of the childish back biting that went on pre match. He also picked a lot of Chelsea players (five or six I think) in his World XI, he’s a great player who behaves like one. Unlike Eto’o, who is a great player who behaves like a moron. It’s not easy to forget his false accusations of racism last season, amongst other things.
In twelve days Chelsea will have to take the game to Barca, going against our manager’s instinctive caution, which may not be a bad thing. If I have one reservation about our esteemed coach, then it is that caution. It may seem churlish to question the methods that have brought Chelsea success under Mourinho but I think it’s a valid point.
The first 37 minutes (up to the red card) last night were a stalemate, we looked like we would settle for 0-0 — we’d certainly settle for it now! I’d like to see us be more imposing in our home legs. We can be too reactive, we wait for mistakes, sometimes you have to force the opposition into making those mistakes. It’s a delicate balance but I feel we err on the side of caution.
Naturally (and predictably) the press have had a field day. A quick scan of the internet reveals gloating at the result from all quarters. Fair enough. Mourinho’s abrasive style and Abramovich’s cash make us a target. When we lose it is generally a cause for celebration elsewhere. I accept that. It’s part of the deal.
On a different note I’d like wish Alan Smith a speedy recovery. I don’t like him, I’ve never liked him and I don’t like Manchester United much. However injuries like that are horrible, whoever they happen to. Roberto Di Matteo had a similar leg break and never played again. I sincerely hope Alan Smith does.