Chelsea 1 Barcelona 0: Lessons from a slender Blues victory
What did we learn from Chelsea's hard-fought victory over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first leg?
Chelsea’s plan works neatly
The Blues were content to sit back and assume the role of spectators as Barcelona pinged the ball about with ease during most of the first half at Stamford Bridge. Roberto Di Matteo’s side were not to blame for this approach, however. Trying to beat Barcelona at their own game would only end in tears so keeping defensively tight and soaking up the pressure until the chance to construct a counter-attack arose made sense, even if it made for a nerve-wracking affair for the Stamford Bridge faithful. Barça had the ball in play for a total of 44 minutes and 20 seconds, compared to Chelsea’s measly total of 16 minutes and 59 seconds. Yet the Londoners could not have hoped for a better result to take back to Camp Nou next week, where just a score draw would take them through to the final.
The best and worst of Drobga
For most of the opening period we witnessed the ugly side of Didier Drogba’s game. Theatrically tumbling to the ground at every opportunity, Di Matteo’s decision to start the Ivorian ahead of Fernando Torres, whose record against Barcelona is so good, looked set to be called into question – until first-half stoppage time, that is. A mistake by Lionel Messi gifted Frank Lampard possession and the England midfielder instantly scooped a ball into Ramires’ path. The Brazilian, who was the main architect of Chelsea’s counter-attacks in the opening exchanges, slid a pass to Drogba – and the 34-year-old made no mistake from close range to put the home side ahead with the last kick of a half which had seen the visitors enjoy 68 per cent of possession.
Cech steps up; Valdes disappoints
True, Víctor Valdes had little to do on a night in which his side enjoyed more than the lion’s share of possession (72 per cent, to be precise). But just a few seconds before half-time, he failed to perform when it counted. Drogba’s effort was near enough for the 30-year-old to push it wide – but the shot-stopper chose to attempt to block the effort with his legs and the ball fizzed past his outstretched leg. His counterpart Petr Cech meanwhile, was excellent for the home side. The Czech’s best moment came in the 87th minute, when he displayed brilliant reflexes to push Carles Puyol’s headed attempt round the post and prevent the visitors from snatching a tie-tipping away goal. Cech did have the woodwork to thank on two occasions, however. Alexis Sánchez lifted his shot over the goalkeeper only to see his effort bounce off the crossbar in the ninth minute, and Pedro’s low curler rebounded off the post in stoppage time with Cech thoroughly beaten on both occasions.
Messi draws a blank again
Much was made of Lionel Messi’s unfavourable record against Chelsea in the build-up to this Stamford Bridge showdown – and his barren spell against the Blues was stretched into a seventh game on Wednesday. But the Argentine’s blank is unlikely to keep Pep Guardiola up at night. The last time he drew a blank on English soil was in the first leg of the last-16 clash with Arsenal last season and he responded with double at Camp Nou in a 3-1 victory on the night. The season before, this time in the quarter-finals, the 24-year-old netted all four goals as Barça tore the Gunners to shreds in Catalonia. Chelsea, you have been warned.