As Chelsea’s tired players trudged off the pitch last night after 90 minutes spent mostly chasing purple (burgundy? maroon?) shirts around and conceding a sapping 75th-minute equalizer, you might think their spirits were down.
After all, they almost had Barcelona. Chelsea could be (should be?) heading into the second leg with a precious one- or perhaps even two-goal lead and a clean sheet. Instead the Catalans are going home with a draw and a vital away goal. That’s the sort of thing that can kill a man’s spirit. Get his dauber down, if you will.
But not this lot. Yes, there is disappointment. But there is also something much more important. Confidence.
“I think we were compact, we were solid, we played as a team, we created many chances, Willian could score easily a hat trick today if it was in another day, so overall fantastic performance.”
“This mistake for us was a pity because the game was perfect for us.”
“I think we deserve to win today.”
In his pre-match press briefing Antonio Conte made a point, twice, of mentioning that this home-and-away with the Spanish league leaders was a chance to find out where Chelsea stand, to find our “level” and what the club need to do to compete at Europe’s highest level.
For Cesc, that level is pretty clearly on par with his former team.
“We are (feeling) positive, we’ve seen today that we can compete.”
If we believed that Barca’s equalizer was our chance at the quarterfinals gone, we could be feeling down on ourselves. Instead, the players are inspired for round two, for another Camp Nou special.
“Of course they had more possession but we created a lot of dangerous chances to score. I think it’s still open and we have to go there and play the same game, compact, fight with every ball and I think we can do that.”
There are many things we could rue. We could dwell over things that might have been. Willian hit the post twice. Rakitic could’ve been sent off twice over. Hazard was pulled down in the penalty area and while it would’ve been a soft call, just seconds later the same foul was given against Chelsea in the middle of the pitch.
Or we could use this result, an eighth match unbeaten in a row against Messi & Co to inspire us three week from now.
“Is a pity for the two shots that hit the post, but it’s good for [Willian] and for the team to score and to go to Barcelona with a good mentality, to fight, to try to win.”
For Pedro, it will be the first match back on Blaugrana soil. Another special occasion then, another modern classic perchance. The players stepped up on Tuesday, with great personality and furious spirit and we’ll need another helping of that in the second leg.
Barcelona are far from invincible.
“You have to have personality when you play in this kind of game. It’s not easy when you are defending, when you are playing against a team that has 70% of the ball, basically all the time.
“So when you have the ball, you are a little tired. But you need personality, you need to want the ball and I think we have players than can do that and I think we actually did that quite well.
“Defending [at the Camp Nou] for 90 minutes can be very, very long. An eternity. You have to go there to also attack, to create.
“We obviously have to score to go through. We have to feel we can hurt them because as I said, [otherwise] it’s basically a suicide mission.”
Fighting spirit? Check.
Suicide mission? That’s a big fat no.
This team will be going to Barcelona to win.