What a week. Seriously. Most of us were a little upset when we were drawn on the same side of the bracket as the defending champions, and when Barcelona saw off an admirable challenge from AC Milan it really did look like the end of the road was near for the Blues. After a Didier Drogba goal in the first leg saw us heading to Spain with a lead, there did appear to be a glimmer of hope for the Blues. Still, there is always the UEFAlona referee decisions to worry about, and this game was due to be an interesting one.
The first talking point would come prior to the game kicking off. Roberto Di Matteo would field an unchanged side from the team he played last week. Pep Guardiola would make several changes to his side, changing from his 4-3-3ish formation to the 3-4-3 that he used with little success over the weekend against Real Madrid. Needing a goal, this seemed to make some sense. It was a bit surprising to see Dani Alves not included in the starting 11 though.
As the game kicked off, Chelsea would quickly probe that Barcelona right flank. Ashley Cole advanced forward and tried to play a nifty through ball to the suddenly ridiculous Ramires. It would be just a bit too hard, but the first warning signs were definitely there that a quick attack could beat the defense.
That would be about it for Chelsea pressure early on. Barcelona would unsurprisingly dominate possession and continue to probe and poke at the Chelsea defense which had held them scoreless throughout the first leg of the contest. Messi had a pair of really nice looks at the goal, but one was off target and the other was well saved by the excellent Petr Cech. Cracks were starting to show though, and I was starting to edge closer and closer to the edge of the couch worrying about Barca finding the net.
A pair of injuries would also mark the early going. Gary Cahill appeared to hurt himself stretching to clear a ball on about 10 minutes, and though he attempted to play through it he eventually had to come off. With no David Luiz available, Jose Bosingwa would come on and Branislav Ivanovic would shift to the center. Barcelona would quickly be forced into a sub of their own, as Gerard Pique was upended by Victor Valdes as Didier Drogba chased a long ball in the box. Pique would try to play through a head injury, but eventually he'd make way for Dani Alves and be taken to the hospital for treatment.
Shortly thereafter, our worst fears would be realized and Barcelona would finally break through. After a poor attempt to clear a corner, Dani Alves collected the ball at the edge of the box and played the ball to Cuenca on the left. Cuenca would then cross the ball along the edge of the 6 yard box and everyone's favorite diver (Biscuits) would tap the ball into the gaping net. It was 1-0 bad guys, and the aggregate was now 1-1. At this point we bacame pretty heavy underdogs to the home side, as we now had to have a goal to advance (or face penalties, the bane of Chelsea for years).
John Terry would complicate matters several minutes later, needlessly kicking Alexis Sanchez who was off the ball and not involved in the play. Sanchez would take a second to react, dive to the floor, and roll around in his best biscuits impression. Despite the play acting from Sanchez, however, it was a stupid decision from our captain and he was deservedly sent off. 1-1 with 10 men the rest of the way...great.
As the half wound down, Barcelona would seemingly decide to put us out of our collective misery. That little hobbit (some guy named Messi) would play a beauty of a ball to the feet of Andres Iniesta, and Iniesta would slot it home to put Barca up on aggregate. There would be no extra time now, Chelsea needed a goal if they were going to have hopes of the final.
Minutes later, that goal would come. Chelsea would win the ball in the Barca half of the pitch and Frank Lampard would repeat his late first half decision from last week. He'd lob a ball to the streaking Ramires who would again find acres of space behind the sluggish Barca defenders, but this time he'd calmly chip the hapless Valdes to get Chelsea a crucial away goal. It was 2-1 for the tie, 2-2 on aggregate, and most importantly Chelsea now had the tiebreaker. Game on.
The second half would seem to be a predictable tactical battle. The ten of Chelsea would come out clinging to the lead, with Barca pressing for everything they were worth. Just minutes into the half this would result in a clear opportunity for the home side. Cesc Fabregas crumbled to the turf after a silly Drogba tackle, and while Cesc was certainly embellishing the tackle it was clearly a penalty. Messi would step up to the spot looking to put Barca through. He'd miss. That's right, the best player in the world would send his shot crashing off the bar. This was so opposite from our luck in 2009 that I was really starting to believe.
Chelsea would defend for another ten minutes or so before Juan Mata was subbed off for Salomon Kalou. Mata had little impact in this one, so the substitution made some sense. Barca would keep pressing with very little in the way of Chelsea pressure, the Blues were clearly content to hang on for dear life. Drogba (who had been excellent) was starting to tire at 75 minutes and Di Matteo made his final substitution. Fernando Torres would come on fo rthe Ivorian, and Chelsea would just look to withstand the pressure for a few more minutes.
Dani Alves found Alexis Sanchez with a perfect pass minutes later, but as Sanchez was slotting home Barca were correctly flagged for being off. The goal was waved off, and play would continue. Petr Cech would then make the save of the night on Messi, seemingly assuring we'd get through.
It wasn't all done yet though. With Barca playing all 10 outfield players within 25 yards of goal, Fernando Torres managed to get behind everybody and have a free run on the terrible Victor Valdes. Valdes would wave Torres by, and Fernando would do something very un-Torreslike in coolly slotting home the dagger. 2-2 on the game, 3-2 good guys on aggregate. Barca were done, and would do nothing in the closing seconds. Chelsea are deservedly through to the Champions League final, and will now await the winner of tomorrow's tie.
This match was fitting in so many ways. After the Overbo incident in 2009, the Messi penalty and Ramires goal just seemed so unbelievably just. I'm sure I'll be on a bit of a high about this for quite a while, hopefully the solid play continues over the weekend.
There was some bad news from this one though. John Terry will miss the final due to his red, and Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles, and Ramires will all be suspended due to yellows as well. Gary Cahill also picked up a knock, so hopefully that's nothing too serious. We'll keep you informed on that as we hear more, but for now just enjoy the victory. We'll have a thread up for tomorrow's game, so be sure to stop by and discuss as we learn who we'll face in Munich. Keep your fingers crossed for lots of cards...
Well done Blues...One more to go!