José Mourinho famously coined the catchphrase “parking the bus” when Tottenham Hotspur produced an overly conservative performance to deny his Chelsea side a Premier League victory in 2004. But, ironically, it appeared Roberto Di Matteo borrowed the same bus for Chelsea’s semi-final against Barcelona, and after a testing and uncomfortable 180 minutes, it just about remained intact. Gary Cahill’s early injury and John Terry’s red card meant Di Matteo had to restructure his back four, reshuffling two right-backs into the vacated centre-half roles. Petr Cech and Ashley Cole displayed outstanding leadership to marshal a hurriedly constructed defence – Cole produced numerous timely interventions to deny Lionel Messi, while Cech displayed extreme bravery to rush out and block two Barça attempts. The bus was left battered but it will make its final stop at Munich on 19 May.
Barcelona were outfoxed by Real Madrid in El Clásico on Saturday night and Pep Guardiola’s side were left perplexed by a different set of players in white shirts as Chelsea eliminated last season’s winners. Frustrated by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and outmanoeuvred by Madrid in La Liga, Barça’s purring engine room had come to a shuddering halt. Guardiola left Alexis Sánchez on the bench for the weekend’s league game but introduced the Chilean in the 70th minute on Saturday and his impact was immediate. In an admission of a tactical blunder, the Barça manager started the former Udinese forward against Chelsea, hoping he would provide another outlet for Andrés Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fàbregas. But Guardiola’s ploy failed as Barça’s elegant architects ran out of ideas to breakdown a resilient Chelsea defence in the second half. The Catalans lack a target man to throw on in the most desperate of situations – an unselfish and willing battering ram.
Much was made of Barcelona’s superiority ahead of the second leg: unworldly options up front, more dangerous creative minds in midfield, and a wilier manager. But Chelsea could match the Catalans in terms of experience in individuals such as Cech, Cole, Frank Lampard and Terry. Yet a moment of sheer madness from the Chelsea skipper left the visitors facing an insurmountable task at Camp Nou. Di Matteo’s side had already lost one starting centre-half – Cahill was forced off in the opening 10 minutes with a suspected hamstring injury – but Terry’s exit from the game was reckless and avoidable. The 31-year-old, under no pressure, drove his knee into Sánchez’s back. It was spotted by the linesman and Terry deservedly received his marching orders. His punishment will be a ban for the final against Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.
Di Matteo will have been relying on his seasoned professionals to produce a mature performance but Terry’s red card and Didier Drogba’s reckless challenge which led to Barcelona’s penalty made life uncomfortable for Chelsea. Ramires, signed from Benfica in 2010, is a willing runner, great tackler and he is starting to add goals to his repertoire. The Brazilian’s most obvious contribution was his spectacular strike – the 25-year-old chased down Lampard’s incisive pass and audaciously dinked the ball over Víctor Valdés. But the midfielder’s tireless endeavour provided encouragement to his ailing team-mates as they were asked to complete a thankless task chasing shadows and marking space at Camp Nou.
Messi extended his miserable record to eight games without a goal against Chelsea after a torrid night for the Argentine. In truth, Barça’s talisman looked dangerous at times and his neat combination play with Fàbregas drew a good save from Cech – but the 23-year-old will no doubt ruefully reflect on his 48th minute penalty miss. Messi had the chance to deal a hammer blow to the Blues at the start of the second half, and despite beating Cech, the Argentine was denied by the crossbar. A Messi penalty miss is a collector’s item. Perhaps only a Fernando Torres goal is more of a rarity but the Spanish striker delivered at Camp Nou. Introduced to add fresh legs to a lagging Chelsea side, Torres was on hand to capitalise on a swift counter-attack, rounding Valdés and netting the visitors’ second of the night to put the tie beyond Barcelona and Chelsea into the final.
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