It’s a Blue night at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea defeat Barcelona thanks to Didier Drogba’s goal
Chelsea produced a memorable defensive performance to shut out holders Barcelona and ensure that they take a lead to the Camp Nou for next week’s second leg.
The Blues had been written off by so many prior to the game but they silenced all of the doubters with a solid, compact display to keep Lionel Messi and his esteemed colleagues at bay.
Didier Drogba got the goal to cap an inspiring individual display and round off Chelsea’s one incisive moment of attacking quality in the match.
Frank Lampard robbed Messi near half-way before switching the play with a glorious pass out to the right for the rampaging Ramires. The Brazilian took it instantly on his chest before wrong-footing the Barca defence with a brilliant delivery across the box for Drogba.
The Ivorian wasted no time in tucking his first-time shot beyond Victor Valdes, who couldn’t react in time.
It was a thrusting break, and stunned the Catalans at the climax of a half in which they had characteristically dominated possession, but rather uncharacteristically, spurned every clear-cut opening that had come their way.
Alexis Sanchez had lifted the ball over the on-rushing Petr Cech but on to the Chelsea crossbar, Cesc Fabregas had scuffed a rebound from five yards and the ex-Arsenal favourite had also seen his dink cleared off the line by Ashley Cole.
However, Chelsea had weathered the visitor’s storm, and had caught them cold just as the half-time whistle was approaching.
Absolute pandemonium engulfed Stamford Bridge at half-time as the natives drew their breath after a half in which they had been surprisingly subdued as they watched wave after wave of Spanish attack.
Roberto Di Matteo’s side should be heavily applauded for their second half display, though.
Most expected Chelsea’s goal to be under complete siege for the entire duration of the second period. However, the anticipated onslaught didn’t quite materialise.
Barcelona had ridiculous amounts of possession, 83% in the second half, but Chelsea held firm and Pep Guardiola’s team, so used to finally wearing teams down with their hypnotic passing game, seemingly began to run out of ideas.
There were chances; Sanchez side-footed just past the post after a wonderful dinked ball from Fabregas, and Adriano’s right-footed effort was palmed away by Cech.
But for a spell in the second half, it appeared Chelsea were relatively comfortable watching Barcelona’s passing game, almost admiring it, whilst keeping their concentration in the knowledge that Messi or Xavi could produce something at any time.
Indeed, the Argentine maestro was being forced to come extremely deep looking for the ball, and for the opportunity to attempt to break this well-organised Chelsea rearguard down.
He weaved, and he spun and he managed to find enough space to muster a shot at goal on a few occasions, despite the close and, at time, aggressive eyes of three or four Chelsea defenders.
However, each time he did pull the trigger, the trajectory of the ball was stopped by wonderful, last-ditch blocks from the likes of John Terry and Gary Cahill.
This was a throwback to the old Chelsea. The days of Jose Mourinho; when winning was paramount, when all eleven players would do whatever it took to win the game, many a time at the expense of beautiful football.
They had accepted that they could not take on Barcelona at their own game, and bypassed the midfield on many occasions when they had the ball, as had been predicted.
Drogba led the line heroically, and justified the decision to start him in the place of the enigmatic Fernando Torres.
Di Matteo set his troops out with exactly the right gameplan to take on Barcelona and his players executed it almost to perfection.
Yes, there was a huge, late scare when Pedro’s curling shot across goal evaded the three covering Blues defenders and bounced back off the post, thereafter Sergio Busquets blazed the resulting rebound high and over, but Chelsea will have felt they had earned the luck that no doubt did come their way.
After all, an element of luck will always be needed if you are to beat arguably the greatest club side this sport has ever seen.
For Barcelona, they will travel back to Spain defeated and behind in this semi-final.
F0r most of the season keen Spanish football observers have claimed that Real Madrid possess a far stronger squad than Barca. That was perhaps proven in the second half at the Bridge, when they turned to their bench looking for someone to change the game.
Pedro is a World Cup winner but has been out-of-form and out of favour for much of the campaign, whilst their other two substitutes, Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara are both relatively inexperienced at this level.
That may be something to address for the Catalans next season should the unthinkable happen and they fail to overturn this deficit.
They will still be considered big favourites to make a third final in four years, due to their astonishing record at home and the huge Camp Nou pitch that lies in wait for Chelsea next Tuesday.
If next week’s visitors think the hard work has already been done in this semi-final by gaining an advantage, they will be unpleasantly surprised.
In Roberto Di Matteo though, they seem to have a manager that possesses real footballing savvy, which should allow for his players to be as equally tuned in to his game plan as they were tonight.
He also has the players on his side, something which could not have been said of his predecessor.