Barça face an uphill task in the Champions League semi-final after losing the first leg 1-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight. Didier Drogba was preferred to Fernando Torres to lead the Chelsea attack and he repaid Roberto di Matteo’s confidence in him with the only goal of the game on the stroke of half time. Barça had chances to score an important away goal but Alexis’s early effort hit the crossbar, and in the very last minute Pedro came close to repeating Andres Iniesta’s injury time equalizer three years ago, but his shot came out off the far post.
Pep Guardiola went for an attacking 4-3-3 with Alves and Adriano as attacking full backs and a midfield trio of Xavi, Busquets and Fabregas. Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol made up the central defence meaning Gerard Piqué started on the bench. Up front Alexis and Messi formed the main strike force with Andres Iniesta playing wide on the left. In the first three minutes we saw a clear difference in the styles of the two teams, from the kick off Barça kept the ball for well over a minute before Chelsea got a touch, but in the third minute Chelsea showed the danger of route one football when Cech’s enormous kick sent Drogba through but the first touch of the Chelsea forward let him down and the ball ran on to Valdés.
Drogba’s next action was to leave his studs in Sergio Busquets, but then a couple of minutes later he showed his skill to turn Mascherano, and Puyol had to be quickly across to cover. Then in the ninth minute Iniesta came inside and played the ball forward to Messi who touched it back and Iniesta sent a splendid pass over the top to Alexis who beat Cech to the ball but his lob over the Chelsea keeper came out off the crossbar.
Barça were totally dominating the possession and the threat of the long ball to Drogba seemed to be diminishing as despite the striker’s strength we always had somebody covering if he won the first ball. We also limited the danger by not conceding free kicks and corners though a couple of long throws of Ivanovic caused us some confusion and Mata had one snap shot over after Busquets failed to get a better clearance.
At the other end Barça continued to work patiently to find the way through Chelsea’s disciplined defence. Messi was finding things especially difficult but in the 17th minute he dribbled into the left of the Chelsea area before touching the ball back to Iniesta who shot from an angle, Cech parried the shot straight out to Cesc who mishit his shot from 8 yards out with the goal gaping, and Alexis couldn’t react to divert the ball home.
Barça continued to press, Iniesta dribbled past Cahill and appeared to be pushed as he went into the area but the German referee waved play on. Then in a rare lapse from the Chelsea defence Cesc received the ball in the area but after sidestepping Cahill his shot was beaten away by Cech. The next chance came with Messi’s firm downward header from Alexis’s cross but Cech followed the bounce and saved by the post.
However, in the last 15 minutes of the first half we began to run out of ideas. Play seemed to be stopped every couple of minutes as Drogba managed to hurt every part of his anatomy but we were beginning to look frustrated. Then in the 43rd minute Messi robbed Mikel in the centre circle and sped off towards goal, as the defence were drawn towards him Messi slipped the ball left to Fabregas who touched the ball past Cech but Ashley Cole was scampering back to clear the ball a metre before it crossed the line.
From a possible 0-1 we went to 1-0 before the break. There was a moment of concern in injury time when Messi slipped on loose turf and looked to have injured himself. It was just a scare as he was soon on his feet but 30 seconds later when he received the ball again he got caught in possession by Lampard who then sent a quick crossfield ball to Ramires who took advantage of Alves being caught upfield to surge down the Chelsea left, Puyol and Mascherano both came across leaving Drogba free and when Ramires pulled the ball back across goal Drogba was there to sweep the ball past Valdés.
The 1-0 scoreline suited Chelsea perfectly and in the second half they sat back even more. Barça tried to be patient but the chances were harder to find. Adriano came forward dribbling past Lampard before shooting right footed from the edge of the area but Cech dived to his left to make a comfortable save. It looked like we had finally found a way through when Cesc scooped a pass over the defence which Alexis appeared to have controlled brilliantly but the ball got stuck a bit too close to his feet and he pushed his shot inches wide of Cech’s left post.
Despite our continued dominance of possession most of our attacks ended with passes cut out, shots blocked or fouls. Unfortunately our free kick taking was disappointing and we failed to trouble Cech with any dead ball shots though it appeared to be Sergio Busquets in the Chelsea wall who blocked one Messi effort. Pedro came on for Alexis with 25 minutes remaining but we failed to find a rhythm as the game was broken up by fouls and more substitutions and of course with more Drogba feigned injuries.
With time running out Barça made a final push. In the 87th minute Messi’s free kick was flicked on by Puyol and Cech had to go full stretch to make a magnificent save while Thiago was just an inch from getting a touch which might have beaten the Chelsea keeper. Then in the final minute of injury time Messi played the ball forward to Busquets who backheeled the ball back, Messi then found Pedro coming in from the left. It all looked set for the equalizer, Pedro shot low and firm and with intention, the ball took the slightest of deflections off Terry’s heel, beat Cech before bouncing out off the far post, Busquets following up could only send the rebound flying high over the bar.
There was no Iniesta miracle today but Barça created enough chances to have won the game. Chelsea defended well in numbers and gave us very little room, but we had at least five great chances to score today. However, we seemed to lack conviction with our finishing and we will have to correct this next week. Chelsea will play with a similar plan at Camp Nou where it is going to be vital not to concede an away goal. Chelsea have always been the most difficult English side for us to break down, we will have to do better next Tuesday.
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanović, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Mikel, Ramires (Bosingwa m88), Meireles, Mata (Kalou m74); Drogba
Barça: Valdés 6; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 7, Puyol 7, Adriano 6; Xavi 6 (Cuenca m87, –), Busquets 6, Fabregas 5 (Thiago m78, 6); Alexis 6 (Pedro m66, 5.5), Messi 6, Iniesta 7.
Goals: m45+2 Drogba 1-0
Yellow cards: m69 Ramires, m71 Pedro, m76 Busquets, m86 Drogba