Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona (Who-celona?) Part I

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.”

The goal

45+2′ Drogba 1-0

There are 29 comments

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  1. bluebayou

    Spot on Ryan. You’ve captured a great night quite succinctly.

    It was a hairs on the back of the neck night.

    It’s the memory of those nights that see you through the bad times.

     And while this season hasn’t been a roaring success and there’s some vital decisions to be made, we’ve had a fair share of very good days and nights in recent years.

  2. Desmond

    Nice one, Ryan. I may live in my own little world but I thought we played wonderfully – there was steel, beauty, discipline, humour (Terry’s Puyol squeeze and Biscuits’ complaints) and a few “oh fuck” moments, everything I could possibly want in a football match. The tactics and selection seemed perfect. Of course, as you say, it could all turn to shite at the Camp Nou.
    It seems as though we are getting our rub of the green all at once, a karmic vomit of good fortune over everything we undertake (well, Spurs and Barca anyway….). If we beat the Arse on Saturday I predict a Bayern-Chelsea final and I say that with no fear of hubris. 
    We deserve it for crying out loud.

  3. GrocerJack

    Excellent stuff Ryan, and complemented by the sage thoughts of The Podding Shed band from tomorrow.

    On that note, sorry about the delay people but we are merely trying to reflect the timbre and flow of the season. Monday night post Spurs was too soon before the barca game and hence we chose a delayed Thursday studio jam session ( I believe thats how the members of popular beat combos describe it). On the basis of this the next episode will also be next Thursday so we can discuss Arsenal and Barcelona Tranche Deux. 

    I thought last night was a masterclass, not of sorts, but very pure, Of course you have to ride out your luck against Barcelona, but we knew what to expect. The key for next week and top of the list is keeping all 11 of us on the pitch because my guess is Barca will be like a school of dolphins in their diving antics. 

    More later peeps……

  4. Fiftee

    Have a feeling we could do a lot – A LOT – worse than give RDM a proper tilt at the job. Knows the players, knows his stuff. A few ins and outs, but why not?

    Also, I fucking hate Soggy Biscuits as we’ve lovingly labelled him. What a snide, fouling, horrid little bastard. Glad he spanked that rebound over.

  5. Harry

    to Chelsea players and RDM for a hard earned victory against Barca. Without
    taking away anything from RDM & EN, lord, have mercy upon our souls if
    Chelsea performs in the same manner away y at Camp Nou.

  6. Simon

    Just give Di Matteo the job.  Maybe he can team up with Zola to manage Chelsea next season. 
    Bloody marvelous.

  7. Blue_MikeL

    Great review Ryan, thanks for it, you summed up everything perfectly. The key thing was denying disciplined defense and we did it. The other interesting thing that I would like to mention is that in spite of these “crazy” possession stats they rarely had the ball in dangerous areas. We have managed to deny ball to Messi and without service he had to drop back from our goal in order to obtain the ball either by himself, as he did when dispossessed Mikel, or to finally get the ball from the midfield. He reminded me of Torres who is almost constantly without service and always has to drop back in order to finally get the ball. 

  8. petew

    Di Matteo has gone a long way to securing the role, though if we lose at Nou Camp and Wembley and finish sixth, the mood will change sharp-ish.
    That was a very good, but not in my view a  great, performance. I didn’t think Barca were as on their game as much as usual (they gave away possession far too much, Fabregas was very poor and didn’t think the Messi, Iniesta, Fab combo worked at all, Iniesta was too far on the left). Given the fact we let them have the ball, I didn’t think the 72% possession was all that surprising or impressive – I was expecting more like 80%. The only time they really looked dangerous is when they caught us in possession and caught the midfielders out of possession – which happened very rarely, such is the way we set up.

    In fact, I think overall Barca paid us a great deal of respect in the way they were actually quite tentative and constrained – perhaps our critics in the press who were blithely predicting humiliation may make note of that. This was not the spellbinding, other-worldly football they usually play, it was much more like the overcooked and toothless fare Arsenal serve up to the easily impressed English media. And that was down to them as much as us, I suspect they would have been just as happy with a 1-0 as we were. 

    The back four have rightly had a lot of plaudits – and Cole was amazing, while one Cahill tackle on Messi reminded me of Bobby Moore – but Lampard and Mikel were outstanding. Lampard sitting deep has been the revelation many of us always expected, and his pass to Ramires for the goal was a masterpiece.Despite that, we still gave away far too many chances, especially in the opening twenty minutes – in 2009 remember, they didn’t get anywhere near the penalty area . And we didn’t try and catch them on the break enough. In that sense, it was more like the rather jammy 2009 game at the Nou Camp,where we scraped a 0-0 (and Drogba missed a great chance on the break), than it was the one at the Bridge, where we were impeccable, probably putting in the single greatest complete performance either side has managed in all our clashes.

    But we deserve our luck against them after 2009, and the focus and discipline was excellent – we barely committed a single foul all match; Luiz would have been a disaster I fear if he had played. It’s the only possible way to play against them, though another 90 mins of the same is not going to be easy and will require just as much fortune (and a strong ref). We could get guzzumped 4-0, but if we score before half time, who knows….

    And to beat Spurs and Barca in successive semi-finals in four days, however it is done, is absolutely extraordinary, a monumental achievement. I almost weep to think what we would have achieved in such a weak domestic league had we not been lumbered with such a poor manager for so long. Scarcely credible that some fans wanted to keep him and get rid of Drogba and Lampard instead.  

    Di Matteo has given Roman a lot of thinking to do.

  9. WorkingClassPost

    What is impressing me now, is the genuine half time, still got a job to do, attitude of club, manager, and players.

    It’s easy to say, but to really mean it, is something else.

    Notwithstanding the challenge ahead, we are in a very strong position, if we keep our nerve and continue our progress.

    Pep’s reaction said plenty, and he absolutely wanted an away goal. He’s an astute man, and must recognise that that was about as good as it gets for Brca: 70% possession and umpteen chances is all that they can hope for, even in Spain.

    In contrast, we have plenty of room for improvement.

    Apart from our solitary conversion, we had absolutely no luck in front of their goal, and there were several times when the ball could’ve broken for us and a second goal would surely have followed.

    Also, apart from their first clip of the bar, there was nowt wrong with their luck in front of our goal. Every missed opportunity was down to our defenders and goalkeeper doing their jobs in a thoroughly composed and committed way, professional is probably the word I’m looking for. We did not give them the time and space that they craved, and when hurried, they were just not up to it.

    After the early stages, when some of our tackling was extremely risky and shouldn’t be repeated over there, we settled and made interceptions rather than tackles and looked to counter which is exactly what we’d set out to do. In the second half there were a couple of times that we broke up their play with ease, but our transition from defence to attacking midfield didn’t quite hit the spot. If we can crack that, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t find it as easy, or even easier to score at their place.

    Of course they’ll have home advantage, but what will that give them, 75% possession? Big deal.

    The biggest concern must be the crowd getting the ref going, so even more discipline will be the order of the evening, especially if they score early, or maybe more so if we score first, because the job won’t be done until the final whistle.

    Also, whoever you say has the best first 11, we must have the best first 14 or 15, so when they play Real on Saturday, their resources will be severely tested, whereas our trip to the Emirates is probably just what we need to keep us focused, and stop us from going off the boil.

  10. bluebayou

    Some interesting thoughts from Joe Cole on modern training, John Terry and Mourinho.

    -Is the football that different in France, then? “In terms of preparation there’s not the culture shock there would have been 20 years ago,” he says.

    “Things are much the same, diet and training wise. If anything England overdo all the science stuff now. Over here they give more responsibility to the players, trust them more to do what’s right for them.

    “Not sure you need some sports science graduate just qualified from Keele University telling you that if you jump over this box 15 times you’ll be a better player. I feel like saying, no, I’ve been in the game 20 years, I know what I need.” –

    Makes you wonder if AVB’s approach perhaps elicited similar sentiments, particularly with regard to trusting players.

    -Cole says Redknapp was not the biggest influence on his career.
    “Nah, that’s Mourinho.” But didn’t the Portuguese notoriously get on his case during their time at Chelsea? “Now that really annoys me when you say that. He was my manager, he was entitled to criticise me about my football.” He pauses for a moment and grins.

    “He criticised me a lot, mind. But he improved me. I went from a player with promise to become a regular at Chelsea and for England.” –

    -“John Terry for me is the best defender technically I’ve ever seen. I used to say to him: come out with the ball.

    “But English football always encouraged him to be more aggressive, play on his power and determination.

    We should have tapped into his technical ability. He could control a game in same way Beckenbauer could. But that wasn’t the English way.” –

    • petew

      The Cole quote on Terry is fascinating and reflect something i’ve discussed before  – the tendency of players to believe their own press. When Terry began, he had this incredible knack for hitting Leboeuf style passes as well as a love of thumping tackles. The press somehow decided to focus on the latter, and I swear his game changed as a result – he began to believe his press and became a more traditional Butcher style centre-half, albeit a very techinically gifted one. I’ve always maintained he is better on the ball than the massively over-rated Rio Ferdinand (who looks graceful, but is actually clumsy and does not have Terry’s passing range). something similar happned to Lampard in around 2006, when he suddenly becamne a hit-and-hope merchant, but he got over it.

      I got this notion from Charlie Cooke, who told me he had always been a goalscoring midfielder, but the press kept calling him a ‘schemer’, so he gave up the goalscoring, forgot it, and became this schemer that the press said he was. Said he always regrets not scoring more goals, because he realises now he changed his style to reflect what was said about him.

      • bluebayou

        That’s interesting.

        The point that stands out there to me  is how we tend to believe that the all pervading power of the sports press is a relatively recent development. But back in the 60’s and 70’s a man like Charlie Cooke could be affected by what he was reading (and perhaps hearing as well).

        Thanks for that snippet.

      • NorthernVA

        I agree with one of your post from a few days ago. John Terry is hands down the player of the season. It’s blatantly evident that no one else is even close.

  11. Blueboydave

    Excellent stuff, Ryan.

    An astonishing display of controlled defence from a team that have been all over the place defensively for much of the season.

    A great week all round, topped by my apparently hitting the gap between the “crack of dawn I want to be first in the queue clicking the mouse from 6.59 a.m.” nutters and the “I’ll wait till I get to work and do it in the firm’s time” bods. 

    Meaning I spent barely 5 minutes in the new, snazzy, though advert-strewn, on-line ticket sales “waiting room” before I could buy my FA Cup final ticket. What does it say about the demographic of our fans, that as ever the most expensive seats [£115] were already sold out in just over 90 minutes?

    A big hat tip to the latest Podding Shed too, very funny indeed. Images of Peter Crouch in a cupboard with assorted bloggers may haunt me for weeks!

    On an info point though, Drogba’s yellow card on Wednesday was his first in the CL. As it’s 3 and 5 yellows that get you suspended, it is Ramires who has now joined the 1 yellow from a suspension group.

    • WorkingClassPost

      That’s an amusing little clip.

      Always felt that, at the right price, he would’ve been a good buy for us, and could easily fit in with our African contingent.

      Who knows, maybe we can get him on loan when ‘Arry starts preparing for the next World Cup.

  12. Cunningplan

    Ryan good report, pretty much nailed on observations, and what makes next week interesting is their El Clasico late on Saturday evening, so come on Real….. knacker them!!!

    And sorry I’m a bit late commenting on your excellent report, as I’ve neglected this particular section for the podding shed and plagiarism, my legal team are currently working on a compensation package.

    • GrocerJack

      Our lawyers are on the case right now. The blatant theft of all our original and good ideas by you is simply not acceptable. Anything in brown paper bags will of course stop us sending the boys around. And maybe some girls. And some beer. oh to hell with it lets just fucking party. 

  13. Cunningplan

    I take it Tony that the party will be in your understairs cupboard with a certain 6′ 7″ footballer?

  14. limetreebower

    Barring something fairly bizarre in the away leg, our yoof will be Yoof Cup champions.

    I went to the game dahn the Bridge this evening and came away gobsmacked. By all accounts they’ve had an up and down year results-wise, but if this is the kind of performance they’re capable of then someone is doing something very right at the academy. I don’t remember even the more individually talented team of a few years ago (Bruma, Stoch, Töre, Josh, Lalkovic et al) putting in such a good team performance in a home cup game.

    It was like watching proper football (rarely the case with U18s, in my very limited experience). When I’ve been before I could always count on lots of bits of wonderful skill, but also lots of crazed running about and a few weird accidents which contributed heavily to the result. Not this time. From front to back they were great, totally outplayed an older, bigger and technically assured side, and scored four goals all of which were beautifully worked as well as brilliantly finished. (Lucas Piazon’s run for the fourth would be worth tracking down on YouTube if it shows up there.)

    Chalobah’s in some ways the least flashy but he has that thing of always looking like he has twice as much time as anyone else. Most impressive.

    Blackman was excellent in goal too, and he’s grown a fair bit since last I saw him.

    Well done to all of them.

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