Our Verdict – Chelsea 1-0 FC Barcelona – Champions League semi-final first leg
Well, well, well. The pundits didn’t give Chelsea a chance before their UEFA Champions League semi-final encounter against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea put on an astonishing display of defensive brilliance on Wednesday night to give themselves a fighting change of clinching a place in this season’s Champions League final in Munich. The game, as everyone knows by now finished 1-0 to Chelsea.
After listening to plenty of radio opinion on the way home from the office yesterday, I actually found I disagreed with everything that the pundits (particularly on talkSPORT) were saying ahead of the semi-final 1st leg clash between Chelsea and Barcelona. Firstly there was the verdict that the only way to beat Barcelona was to kick them off the park, and injure Lionel Messi. Then there was talk of Barcelona being too quick and too classy for Chelsea’s ‘old guard’. Yes, there was a bit of play acting from Didier Drogba, and I must admit I was screaming “get up you soft ‘expletive’” on numerous occasions throughout the match, but overall, I always had an opinion that Chelsea had a chance. And here’s why.
Firstly, Chelsea play on a pitch much tighter than Barcelona, and looking back at previous clashes between the two sides, the size of the pitch at Stamford bridge makes Barca’s passing game more difficult. Barcelona, certainly managed to pass the ball around Chelsea and create plenty of chances (I believe it was something like 24 shots against 4 last night), but Barcelona were closed down very quickly, which wouldn’t have happened on a larger football pitch.
Secondly, I’ve always said that the best chance of beating Barcelona is over two legs. Forget the demolition of Manchester United in last season’s Champions League final at Wembley. And Barcelona’s victory over the same opposition back in 2009. But instead look at United’s victory over Barca in 2008, over two legs, as proof that the talented Barcelona can be beaten. Chelsea last night played very much the same way as Man United did back in 2008, in that they kept their patience, and allowed Barcelona to have the majority of the ball, but also managed to absorb the pressure, keep their cool and grab a goal. Manchester United progressed to the final and won the competition back in 2008, and Chelsea could do the same this season if they manage to play a similar game and Camp Nou. And they can definitely score against the Spanish Champions, they proved that last night. Then there’s Chelsea’s last encounter with Barcelona in 2009. Again they caused the Catalans problems and were unlucky not to progress to the final. Take Arsenal’s games against Barca too – they have played and beaten Barcelona in recent years – OK, not on a neutral ground in a final, that’s not my point – but Barcelona are beatable. And two legs is the best chance any team has of beating them. Inter Milan as well, when under the management of Jose Mourinho, is another example to prove my point.
There’s still a long way to go, and another 90 minutes of football which ultimately Barcelona will dominate in terms of possession. But Chelsea have a chance. I’m amazed that so many pundits wrote the West Londoners off last night before a ball was even kicked, and despite Barcelona still being bookies favourites, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the second-leg of the semi-final game finished 2-1 to Barcelona and Camp Nou, and Chelsea marched on to the final in Munich. The loss at Stamford Bridge could get into the Barca player’s heads, and with a tricky fixture against Real Madrid at the weekend, it’ll be a draining week for the world’s best football side. So my opinion is that Chelsea now have the advantage, and Barcelona will not be looking forward to the rematch on Tuesday 24 April at the Nou Camp.