Two goals and a man down by 40 minutes in Camp Nou, it was feared to be a long night for Chelsea from there on. And yet, to keep Barcelona – arguably the best team in the world – at bay, for more than 45 minutes in a 10v11 scenario speaks volumes about the character displayed by the Chelsea side to come from behind and beat Barcelona. Di Matteo’s men managed a victory against all odds, much to the relief of red-carded John Terry.
While Chelsea have had their share of luck over the two legs of the semi-final, with the post coming to their rescue more than a few times, they did turn in an inspired defensive performance to keep Barcelona out and were successful for the entire first leg and most part of the second. Over both the legs, and more so in the second half of the second leg, there were Chelsea players jumping into tackles, making clearances, and blocking shots from the Barcelona players. If you’re looking for a good lesson on defending, then this game offers an excellent example of how to defend.
The Chelsea midfielders could be seen covering the back line, blocking the passes into the final third and restricting the movement of the Barcelona players. Chelsea picked out their moments to attack after a lot of defending, and it worked well. Barcelona were visibly frustrated by their inability to get past the Chelsea defence and sent up their defenders to aid the build-up play, leaving them vulnerable for a Chelsea counter-attack.
And when it came, there were little Barcelona could do as their last defender was positioned at the half way line. Even on the Chelsea counter-attack, you see only Drogba, Ramires and Mata, with the defence cautious of a counter by Barcelona. Sensible football from Chelsea!
Into the second leg, again, even after the sending off, the 10-man Chelsea still held on well with Drogba, and later Torres, coming back to aid the defence. Barring the one case when Drogba went in a tackle which brought down Fabregas for a penalty, the Chelsea team never really looked in danger of conceding a goal. The Barcelona players, near the Chelsea box, were well marked and getting the ball into the box was proving to be very difficult.
Chelsea had yet another advantage over Barcelona. Barca lacked players who were good in the air and with Pique’s injury, there was hardly anyone who could compete with the Chelsea defenders in the air, thus closing down even the crosses in the box. Plus, familiar as they are, Chelsea were very adept at dealing with crosses into the box, forcing Barca to find their way through and not over the Chelsea defence. But, the accurate marking from the Londoners ensured that Barca were denied even after holding about 3/4th of possession.
To crown it all, Cech put in a superb effort to deny Barcelona whatever chances they could make throughout the game. Indeed a spirited performance from the English side to claw their way back into the game. As the referee blew the full time whistle, the siege that Barcelona had laid over Chelsea’s penalty area came to nothing; as their advantage in terms of the extra man and possession could not get them the goal they needed. Di Matteo has used his men well.
Having beaten the Catalan giants, Chelsea are serious contenders, even favourites, to lift the UEFA Champions League Trophy come May 19. Whether or not Bayern will be able to handle their threat remains to be seen.