The Chelsea players walked onto the Nou Camp pitch with the odds stacked against them. Despite bringing a lead along with them from Stamford Bridge, they were tasked with keeping one of the greatest sides ever assembled at bay for 90 long minutes, with the vociferous home support always ready to spike up the adrenaline of both sets of players. Pep Guardiola’s intentions were clear when he lined up with just three central defenders and no full-backs, effectively deploying a 3-5-2 formation. The names of the five midfielders should have alone sent shivers down the spine of any opposition- Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas, Iniesta and youngster Cuenca. To add to this, they had South American duo Messi and Sanchez ahead, with the experienced Puyol leading from the back. Following a disappointing El Classico showing and the title seemingly in Real Madrid’s cabinet, the Barcelona players were pumped-up and ready to retain their European crown. However, history did not favour the Spanish side, as Chelsea’s last three visits to the Camp Nou had all ended in draws. A result along the same lines would ensure a trip to Munich for the Blues faithful.
Roberto Di Matteo set up his side in a similar manner as the first leg, and anticipated the Catalonian clubs attacking intent. All Chelsea had to do was keep a clean sheet and thwart any dangerous pass into oblivion, and they were through to the final in Munich. Easier said than done. Terry and Cahill started at the back in the absence of Luiz, along with Ivanovic and Cole on either side. The midfield consisted of Mikel, Meireles, Lampard and Ramires, followed with Mata and Drogba upfront.
Ever since the referee got the ball rolling in the gloomy Spanish night, it was crystal clear that Barcelona were simply not going to allow Chelsea to have the ball. However, despite the situation they were in, the Catalonian giants did not disembark from their philosophy- pass, pass, pass. They did not aimlessly hoof the ball forward, or spam crosses into the box, and rather tried to open up spaces through intricate passing moves. And this worked to perfection just three minutes into the game, as Messi hit the side netting from a tight angle. A wake-up call for the defence and Cech alike- he had to be at his best in this game. Turns out he was; as portrayed in the 20th minute of the game when he saved the Argentine’s low driven shot with his feet to tip it over the bar.
The night was about to get worse for the Londoners as Gary Cahill had to be subbed off owing to discomfort in his hamstring. Ivanovic partnered Terry in the middle as Bosingwa featured in the right back role. Pique was also replaced by Dani Alves after a collision with Valdes. Shortly after this, Barcelona finally drew first blood after countless wasted opportunities. Following a corner cleared away, Cuenca did well to navigate into the Chelsea box and square the ball to Busquets who had an open net ahead of him as our Czech goalkeeper was off his line. With the scores now level on aggregate and a huge portion of the game still left to play, both sets of fans were ready for the enthralling game which awaited them.
John Terry, who was supposed to lead the team from the back as the captain, was brandished with a red card two minutes after this for kneeing Sanchez in the back off the ball. Replays showed that the Chilean did in fact make the most of it in an attempt to hand his side numerical advantage. Barcelona, who were known for their cheap tactics to get the most out of tough situations saw this work to perfection once again- despite Terry’s leg clearly in an unnatural position and seemingly intentional. 1-0 down to one of the greatest sides ever assembled and at their home ground, everyone saw this play out in just one way. These thoughts were further amplified when Iniesta (who Chelsea fans have only unpleasant memories of) doubled the hosts lead before half-time, slotting past Cech . The odds on an English side going to Munich were now slashed to almost zero, and Chelsea needing a footballing miracle to go through.
The football gods seemed to acknowledge the prayers of Chelsea fans around the world, as Ramires made a darting run from the right-back role where he was stationed following the dismissal of Terry, to be picked out by our current manager Frank Lampard. The Brazilian coolly chipped the ball over Victor Valdes, and sent the away end into frenzy. The score over two legs now stood at 2-2, and Chelsea leading on away goals. The goal was completely against the run of play and stunned the stadium into silence. The referee blew for half-time, and the managers were sure to have polar opposite reactions to the goal in added time of the first half.
While Pep Guardiola was instructing his players to go all-out attack, Di Matteo insisted on a disciplined defensive display, as Chelsea were playing without a recognised centre back. No margin for error or silly mistakes, they had to keep their concentration. Unfortunately, another experienced campaigner, this time in the form of Didier Drogba lost his cool and tripped Fabregas inside the penalty area. There was minimal contact, but deemed sufficient by the assistant, who voiced his opinion to the referee. Up stepped Messi, who was yet to find the net against Chelsea. Having scored 63 times this season, the odds were stacked in his favour, and all the football supporters were ready with their “I told you so” comments which gave Chelsea zero chance of qualifying. However, the football gods which I mentioned earlier once again favoured Chelsea as the Argentine forward who is widely regarded as one the greatest way of all time, slammed the ball onto the crossbar. Perhaps the atmosphere and pressure got to him, perhaps the adrenaline of finally scoring against Chelsea overpowered him, but nonetheless the score remained intact.
The game continued in the same fashion as it had in the previous 140 minutes. Barcelona kept knocking on the door, but Chelsea’s stubborn defence refused to let him get breached. Cuenca forced an acrobatic save from Cech, and so did Mascherano. Ivanovic was presented with a rare Chelsea opportunity from a corner, but headed wide. A fantastic and controlled defensive display often made us forget that we played the majority of the game one man down. While it was within touching distance for the Chelsea players, their hearts were almost broken when Sanchez placed the ball into the corner of the net- only for Dani Alves, who passed it to him, being flagged offside. Messi nearly made up for his penalty miss in the final 10 minutes as he struck the post from 20 yards out. Upon closer observation, it was evident that Cech had in fact got a fingertip to it, which otherwise would have resulted in the hosts’ third of the evening.
Barcelona were now desperate, and it resulted in few rare erroneous moments from the ever reliable midfield players such as Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. As the clock struck 90, they had thrown everyone front in an attempt to get a goal from somewhere. They were, in poker terms, all in. However, following a block and clearance by Cole, who was one of the best players in the night, saw the ball fall to the feet of substitute Torres, with nothing but 60 yards of space, and Valdes between him and ensuring a trip to Munich. The Spanish striker who held a prolific record of scoring against the Catalonians at his time in Atletico Madrid, made no mistake as he skipped past Valdes and tapped the ball into the gaping, empty net. The travelling fans went absolutely berserk, and the coaching staff all ran onto the pitch in celebration. In what was effectively the last kick of the game, Torres sent every Chelsea fan all around the world into jubilation, as his goal guaranteed the Blues a spot in the final in Munich.
The referee concluded the match shortly after Barcelona restarted the game, as Chelsea continued their celebrations late into the night- fans and players alike. This was the club’s first appearance in the Champions League final since the disappointment four years earlier at the hands of Manchester United. The rivalry in Europe between Barcelona and Chelsea continued, and the latter team had landed the latest punch. A tough task awaited Chelsea in the final though- with Ivanovic, Terry, Meireles and Ramires all suspended, and Cahill injured. Tune in next week to see how the final unfolded, as I attempt to express the emotions in words. Till then, let the words of Torres (who said this in a press conference building up to this game) ring, “The better team does not always win the game”, and sometimes, in football, some things are just meant to be.