One of the biggest rivalries in European football in the past decade has been between FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC. The Champions returned to Stamford Bridge this Wednesday eager to reach their third final in four years. This has been the eleventh time the two clubs have met in twelve years and there has been little love lost between the two sides. The Catalans returned to the scene of the crime this evening with Iniesta’s injury time winner still a sore point around London. Since that dramatic strike in 2009, both sides have enjoyed contrasting fortunes with the Londoners paling in comparison.
Mascherano and Puyol manned the centre of defence, flanked by Adriano and Alves with Pique relegated to the bench. Busquets, Xavi, and Fabregas formed the midfield trio while Cesc, Messi, and Sanchez played up front. Di Matteo favoured Drogba over Torres and he posed a threat in the opening minutes with the long ball being Chelsea’s only option. Sanchez lobbed the ball over Petr Cech’s head in the ninth minute after beating the offside trap, but his effort bounced off the crossbar. Moments later Sanchez was on the ground as he and John Terry collided off the ball. The crowd was becoming hostile and the game was heating up as the home side’s frustration of not touching the ball was starting to manifest.
Cesc missed a sitter just after the quarter hour mark after a good run in the box by Messi resulted in a shot from Iniesta that rebounded into Fabregas’ path, but he somehow missed from close range. Barcelona continued to press but could not unlock the Chelsea defence. A sweet cross by Sanchez on half an hour found the rising head of Messi, whose effort was well held by Cech. The home side were living off scraps with Drogba the only real thorn in Guardiola’s side. Just before the break Messi tussled to win the ball back in midfield before embarking on a surging run and setting Fabregas free. His chip beat the keeper but was swept off the line by Cole. In injury time Messi lost out to Lampard, who started a counter attack that left the back line flatfooted. Ramires received the ball and cut a pass across the square that wrong footed both Puyol and Mascherano, and Drogba slotted the ball home from three yards. The home fans could scarcely believe their luck as the teams ran to the tunnel at the half with Barça trailing.
The visitors continued to squander their chances after a delightful one two between Fabregas and Alexis feel into the Chilean’s path but he dragged it wide. The rain teamed down and Chelsea continued to frustrate the visitors. Pedro came on for Alexis and Fabregas made way for Thiago with fifteen minutes left on the clock. A Messi free kick was flicked on by Puyol and missed by Thiago but was saved by Petr Cech. Cuenca came on for Xavi in the dying minutes. A back heeled one two between Messi and Busquets was snuffed out by Terry – the rebound fell to Pedro who hit the bar and Busquets could not finish the rebound.
It was a terrible night for the Spaniards and they return home sick with regret about their missed chances. The Champions were lacking urgency and forward penetration, and an over-crowded midfield seemed to run out of ideas tonight. One goal from Chelsea in the Nou Camp will leave Barcelona with a mountain to climb next week – and with a Clasico at the weekend these next few days will really define this team’s place in history for generations to come.
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