It is hard to describe the disappointment tonight as Barça crashed out of the Champions League after an incredible 2-2 draw against ten-man Chelsea. Barça played an almost perfect first 45 minutes, scoring twice through Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta to overturn Chelsea’s first leg advantage, but then, already down to ten men after John Terry’s foolish sending off, a Ramires chip gave Chelsea a vital away goal in first half injury time. Leo Messi missed a penalty early in the second half and despite playing practically the whole second half pinning Chelsea’s ten players back in the final third of the pitch we failed to find another goal as anxiety crept in. Fernando Torres scored a runaway goal at the very end to finish the job for Chelsea who will play the winner of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the final on May 19.
Pep Guardiola made four changes to Saturday’s team, sacrificing Dani Alves to play a flat back three of Mascherano, Piqué and Puyol. Adriano, Thiago and Tello were also left out after starting against Madrid bringing back the big names Cesc, Alexis and Piqué and restoring Isaac Cuenca to the right wing. Whatever you thought before the game it was certainly a brave and exciting formation. Chelsea coach Roberto di Matteo played the same XI as in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
The game began at a great pace. In the third minute Messi and Alexis combined through the middle and but Messi’s shot was with the right foot and hit the side netting. With Cuenca on the right and Iniesta on the left, Fabregas was finding a lot of space supporting Messi and Alexis through the middle, in the 6th minute Messi went past one challenge before slipping a pass to Cesc who played Alexis into the area, Cahill slipped as he covered the threat, causing an injury that saw him subbed off for Bosingwa five minutes later.
We saw in the first leg the danger from Cech’s long kicks up to Drogba and in the 16th minute Drogba chased after another huge kick from the Chelsea keeper, Piqué went with him and got the worst of things as Valdés came steaming out to clear, smashing into both players. Piqué looked very groggy and went off for a minute. Then with Piqué back, in the 19th minute an electric move with Messi and Alexis ended with Cesc flicking the ball through his legs back to Messi who shot low but Cech saved well with his legs and Iniesta’s rebound was cleared. A minute later Cesc was into the area again but his volley went into the side-netting.
A rare counter from Chelsea saw Drogba escape from Piqué before shooting wide from an angle, but Guardiola took it as the sign that Piqué was not fully recovered and brought on Alves in his place. We were still looking very slick in our passing and the constant pressure looked sure to pay off sooner or later. We won a couple of corners on the left, Xavi and Iniesta had shots from distance that didn’t trouble Cech, Terry made a good tackle on Messi on the edge of the area.
The game had been tense and thrilling for 35 minutes, then for the end of the first half it exploded. Cesc won a corner on the right, Xavi swung it over looking for Puyol but the defence headed it clear, the ball was recovered by Alves in a central position 35 yards out, Alves burst forward and as the defence came out to meet him he freed Cuenca inside the area on the left, Cech had to rush out to stop the shot but Cuenca pulled the ball across the goal and Busquets was at the far post to sweep the ball home.
A minute later the Chelsea captain John Terry made an absurd error that will cost him his place in the final, with the ball nowhere near, Terry couldn’t resist giving Alexis a knee in the back of the leg. The linesman spotted it and called the ref and Chelsea were down to ten men. It’s pretty hard for a player to have a worse career moment than Terry suffered when his penalty slip cost Chelsea glory in Moscow in 2008; that miss could be put down to horrible luck, tonight’s action was pure stupidity.
Barça sensed blood and went for the kill. In the 44th minute Alexis sped forward before finding Messi to his left 35 yards out, Iniesta made the run into the area and Messi timed his pass perfectly and Iniesta stroked the ball low past Cech into the far corner. At 2-0 there will be many who thought the tie was now over though Chelsea hit back immediately, and as in the first leg we conceded a crucial goal in first time injury time. Xavi and Iniesta failed to keep the ball as they looked to penetrate and Chelsea broke quickly, Lampard moved into space between Xavi and Busquets, and Mascherano rushed out of the back line to try and intercept, Lampard held off the challenge and slipped the pass into Ramires who spotted the space left by Mascherano, neither Puyol nor Busquets could get across quickly enough and Ramires sent a cool chip over the advanced Valdés. Two-one. Half time.
A goal just before half time is always a big blow but Barça still had everything in favour to get through. Cuenca moved to the left for the second half with Alves supplying the width on the right and Chelsea played deeper and deeper with all nine outfield players often back on the edge of the area. It didn’t look like we’d have problems to create chances when Iniesta shot from inside the area in the 47th minute but his shot was deflected wide.
Then in the 48th minute Fabregas played a quick one-two with Messi on the right of the area and Drogba who played for long periods in the left back position brought Cesc down. It was again the linesman who saw it and he signalled to the ref who awarded the penalty. It was Messi’s moment, his chance to take the Champions League record to 15 goals in a season. Perhaps it was down to Cech’s intimidating size that caused Messi to shoot high, whatever the case, Messi’s shot crashed against the crossbar and something seemed to happen to our belief.
Alexis had a far post header from an Alves cross go wide but the game was beginning to look complicated and memories of ten-man Inter two years ago began to creep in. Drogba now popped up`at right back to rob Cuenca and then after getting past Puyol almost scored an incredible goal from the half-way line as Valdés had to move quickly and dive to save.
Cuenca had a chance in the 62nd minute after good work from Messi and Iniesta opened the space but Cech was again big in his goal and Cuenca’s shot went straight at the Chelsea keeper. Guardiola put on Tello for Cuenca and then Keita for Fabregas but the chances were fewer now as Chelsea grew, encouraged by a couple of forays into the Barça half that almost took advantage of our sparse defence.
But Barça kept insisting, trying to find holes in the packed defence. In the 78th minute Iniesta sent a deep cross towards Alves, the ball bounced down to Busquets, 15 yards out, but he was leaning back as he shot and the ball flew over. Torres came on for Drogba who, despite some of his play-acting, it must be said played a magnificent role for his team.
Into the last ten minutes and the tension was unbearable. In the 81st minute Alexis had the ball in the net after Alves’s cross but the linesman had spotted Alves half a yard offside. Then Messi came alive to get in a shot from just outside the area but Cech managed to get a fingertip to send the ball against the base of the post. It was the fourth time over the two games that we hit the Chelsea woodwork.
As time ran out we got more desperate, Mascherano had a long shot saved and from the resulting corner Puyol headed over. In one final attack we pushed everybody so far forward that when Cole cleared from within the Chelsea area the ball came to Torres all alone and onside as he started his run from the Chelsea half. Valdés came out but Torres skipped past him to score into the empty net.
We can be critical of Chelsea’s defensive formation but they played the second half very well. Veteran players like Drogba, Cech and Lampard who have come so close in the past can now have one more attempt to lift the Champions League. Tonight they played key roles in their sides victory and we shouldn’t begrudge them their moment.
It’s been an incredibly tough and disappointing week for culés. Losing a Liga to Madrid and getting knocked out of the Champions League to three injury time goals just doesn’t seem right after all the tremendous work from Guardiola and the players this season. However, the reaction from the Camp Nou public, singing support for the team after Chelsea’s second goal was extremely heartening and should be remembered as a beautiful moment.
olele olala, ser del Barça es, el millor que hi ha!
Barça: Valdes 6; Mascherano 6, Piqué 6 (Alves m26, 6.5), Puyol 6; Busquets 6.5, Xavi 6, Fabregas 7 (Keita m74, 6); Cuenca 6.5 (Tello m67, 6), Alexis 7, Messi 6.5, Iniesta 7.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill (Bosingwa m12), Terry, Cole; Meireles, Mikel, Lampard, Ramires, Mata (Kalou m58); Drogba (Torres m80)
Goals: m36 Busquets 1-0, m44 Iniesta 2-0, m45+1 Ramires 2-1, m92 Torres 2-2
Yellow cards: m32 Mikel, m45 Ramires, m59 Cech, m71 Messi, m72 Lampard, m89 Meireles.
Red card: m37 Terry