Despite the aggregate score line of our quarter final fixture reading 3-1, every Chelsea fan was aware that Benfica really pushed us to the limit, and dominated the game across both the legs. Hence, as the words “FC Barcelona” were drawn out of the famous Champions League mini-ball, a shiver was sent down the spine of everyone associated with blue part of London. Apart from having players such as Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and Puyol, they were coached by Josep Guardiola, and played his famous possession based one touch football inspired by Johan Cryuff. To add to this, they were the current holders of the Champions League, and eager to retain the coveted big-eared trophy in Catalonia. Their ruthless brand of football saw them obliterate their opponents, and this is elucidated by the fact that they had scored 13 goals in the knockout phase alone. Having played a sitting-deep and counter attacking style of football against the Portuguese side, one could assume a similar style would be deployed against Barcelona. One could also predict the hostile atmosphere following the robbery of 2009 against the same opposition. However, what no one could predict was our line-up.
Roberto di Matteo decided to start four across midfield, along with Mata upfront to assist Drogba. In the absence of wingers, it was evident that our manager wanted a compact game, and hit on the counter. Since the referee got the ball rolling, it was constantly in the possession of Barcelona. Chelsea did well to hold their shape in an attempt to frustrate the opposition in the initial part of the game. However, this lasted for nine minutes. Midfield magician Iniesta played a perfect pass to unleash Alexis Sanchez, who timed his run to perfection. In a bid to get the ball into the net over the fast-approaching Petr Cech, the Chilean forward chipped the ball. While it seemed to be elegantly kicked to precision, it was marginally too much, and the ball hit the crossbar before being cleared away by the defence. This was not the last time luck favoured us that night either. Shortly after, Messi’s fantastic dribbling ability saw him get past several blue shirts, followed by a smart cut back into the centre of the box. With Cech off his line, Cole had placed himself along the goal as the ball fell into the path of Cesc Fabregas. Unfortunately for the Spaniard (who would later go on to play for us), he could not connect his boot smoothly to the ball, resulting in a weak shot.
Soon after, Iniesta had an appeal for a soft penalty denied. He was once again the centre of attention when he got a shot away from a tight angle, only to be parried by our Czech giant in goal. Following forty frustrating minutes for Barcelona, Messi once again portrayed why he’s regarded the best player in the world as he carved open the Chelsea defence to play Fabregas through once again. On this occasion, it looked like they finally might get the breakthrough, only to be denied by Ashley Cole’s brilliant clearance off the line. With Barcelona seeming close to giving up after an excruciating first half, Chelsea sensed an opportunity to pounce on their switching off. Despite having a couple of chances especially from long balls and throw-ins, Chelsea never seemed to really cause the Catalonian giants any major issues, until the second minute of added time after the 45 minute mark.
Our current manager, Frank Lampard, who was a part of the starting eleven on that night, won possession in midfield and looked up to see Ramires’ bursting run forward. The Brazilian quickly ran into the little space he found, teeing up our big game striker Didier Drogba. The Ivorian made no mistake in guiding the ball into the corner of the net, beyond the diving Victor Valdes. Elation gripped the stadium as every single fan erupted from his seat, along with animated celebration in the dugout. Chelsea were actually leading one of the greatest side to ever be assembled, and enroute to causing a massive upset, coupled with much sought after revenge for 2009. As the referee blew the half time whistle, there was an awkward aura surrounding Stamford Bridge. They knew they were quarter-way through to the final in Munich, but also faced the tough task of taming the opposition in the second half, who would come out with all guns blazing.
The second half kicked off in the same manner as the first- Barcelona playing their style of football, but unable to penetrate the well drilled Chelsea defence, who now sat even deeper. However, there was a sense of urgency in their manner of play now; the casual entitled attitude which the players carried themselves with now evolving into desperation. Adriano’s curling shot early into the second half was saved by Petr Cech. Sanchez was presented with his second golden opportunity of the night by Fabregas, who had missed a fair share of chances, himself. However, Sanchez misdirected his shot wide from close range, as Chelsea continued to hold on by a thread. Despite their best efforts, the Chelsea defence anchored by John Terry stood firm.
Petr Cech reiterated his world class ability once again, this time denying club legend Puyol an equaliser, after he directed a Messi free-kick towards goal. The players as well as the fans knew they were almost there, with the finish line in sight. However, it was a heart-in-throat moment for the supporters in the stadium, as substitute Pedro hit the post again from a decent shot in the dying moments of the game. The rebound fell to Busquets, who hit his shot high and wide. Following this incident, the referee finally decided to blow the full time whistle, and Stamford Bridge, as a whole, breathed a sigh of relief. This sigh of relief soon took the form of joy and enthusiasm, when the grasped the size of their achievement. They were halfway through to Munich, and kept a clean sheet against few of the greatest players to have played the beautiful game of football. Part one, completed. A daunting reverse leg fixture at the Camp Nou lay ahead. Find out in next week’s article how that panned out.