Clashes between Chelsea and Barcelona have always provided plenty of drama and their Champions League semi-final first leg was no exception. Chelsea’s fortunes have been turned around since the temporary appointment of Roberto Di Matteo and Barcelona knew they would face a tough battle at Stamford Bridge.
Under previous manager, Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea’s ageing stars had been given only limited match time but Di Matteo knows their importance for the big European games and he put his faith in them for the opening leg. Chelsea’s success has largely been built on the spine of the team through Cech in goal, Terry in defence, Lampard in midfield and Didier Drogba leading the attack. The tried and tested formula paid dividends once again as Drogba struck the winning goal on a night when Barcelona had much the better of the game.
From very early on it was clear that Barcelona was going to play their usual quick passing game and Chelsea had set their stall out to chase and frustrate them in their efforts to score a vital away goal. Alexis Sanchez lobbed Cech within the opening ten minutes but the ball rebounded off the cross bar. Opportunities came and went with former Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas having an effort cleared off the line by Ashley Cole. Barcelona were relentless as they probed for a breakthrough but it was Chelsea who struck in the dying moments of the first half.
Lionel Messi was dispossessed by Frank Lampard who clipped a perfect pass through to Ramires. He raced through and squared for Drogba to fire the Londoners in front. That gave Chelsea something to defend in the second half and every last man gave their all in chasing the Spaniards and shutting them out. Sanchez missed a golden opportunity and Pedro’s late strike was nudged on to the post by the heroic Cole with Cech beaten. The rebound fell to Busquets who contrived to blast high into the stands.
There is no let up in the fixtures for either side with big domestic clashes at the weekend before they return to the Nou Camp to decide which team progresses to the Champions League final. Chelsea face London Rivals Arsenal whilst Barcelona play Real Madrid. Both sides have powerful squads but will be anxious not to lose any of their star players for the second leg. Chelsea’s game plan will undoubtedly be to frustrate Barcelona and try to hit them with a killer goal on the break. A goal for the Blues would give them the away goal advantage and leave Barcelona needing three. Chelsea can be very dangerous on the counter attack as they showed when they demolished Tottenham 5-1 in the FA Cup last weekend so Barcelona will have to be on their guard. The tie could hardly be more evenly poised and both teams will fancy their chances in the return leg.