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Frank Lopapa On April - 26 - 2012

Guided by an Italian, Chelsea pipped Barcelona

Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal between Barcelona and Chelsea ticked all the boxes for a classic match. Goals? Check. Drama? Check. Contrasting styles clashing? Check. This was a game that had something for everybody and was so absorbing to watch.

Chelsea entered the second leg 1-0 up on aggregate thanks to Didier Drogba’s goal near the end of the first half in London. The main target for them in the away leg was simply to defend and defend. Chelsea manager and former Italy international Roberto Di Matteo said that Chelsea would have to play two perfect games to have any chance of making it to the final, and they were pretty close to that. They did just enough to keep Barca at bay in the first leg, keeping them off the board and denying them a crucial away goal. For the second leg, it was the same plan; keep Barcelona at bay, bending but not breaking. Chelsea were immediately on the back foot and suffered an early blow when defender Gary Cahill was forced off barely ten minutes in due to what looked like a hamstring injury; fullback Jose Bosingwa deputized as a center back for the remainder of the match.

The match continued with the same narrative for most of the first half; Barca would attack, Chelsea would defend and look to break quickly. Chelsea finally conceded when Barca scored through the unlikeliest of goalscorers in Sergio Busquets in the 35th minute; a cleared Barcelona cornered was collected by Dani Alves, who sent the ball left to a streaking Isaac Cuenca niside the area. Cuenca played the ball across the six yard box, where Busquets easily stroked the ball into the empty net. Two minutes later the match suddenly turned on its head when John Terry lost his and put his knee in the back of Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez hit the floor, and as a result Terry was promptly sent off. A man down and without two of their starting center backs, it only got worse for Chelsea when two minutes before the half Andres Iniesta put Barca ahead in the tie with a neat finish. Chelsea quickly responded a minute into first half stoppage time on the counter; Ramires surged down the right and wonderfully chipped the ball over Victor Valdes to take the lead in the tie on away goals.

The craziness of the first half continued into the second, when Barcelona were awarded a penalty two minutes into the second half. Leo Messi stepped up, and was amazingly denied by the crossbar. The rest of the second half played out typically; Barcelona would try and pick their way past the Chelsea defense, and the London side would try and keep Barca at bay for as long as possible. Barcelona had an astonishing 82% of possession, and yet only had six shots on target (granted they had 23 total shots compared to Chelsea’s seven). Barcelona did end up hitting the post late in the game through Messi, however, that would be as close as they came to scoring. Then, out of the blue, Chelsea scored another in stoppage time; a long punt upfield was collected by Fernando Torres, and with no defenders back to snuff out the chance skipped past Valdes and passed the ball into the empty net.

The match itself contained many parallels to Inter’s victory at the Camp Nou two years ago at the same stage. Both teams had the lead going into the second leg, both teams had a man sent off in the first half, and both defended extraordinarily well as a unit . While watching the match, one could notice the stark similarities to Mourinho’s Inter; of course, the spine of this Chelsea side were all greatly influenced by Mourinho during his time at Chelsea. Despite the Mourinho influence, all credit has to go to Di Matteo for formulating an excellent game plan to counter Barcelona; play resolute, but not dirty, defend compactly, but don’t be overrun on the wings. There was an element of fortune for Chelsea as Barcelona weren’t as clinical as they tend to be in front of goal over the two legs, hitting the woodwork on numerous occasions coupled with some fantastic saves by Petr Cech.

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