Stamford Bridge was the site for the much-anticipated second leg of the semi final between Chelsea and Barcelona. The first leg ended in a scoreless draw, which set up any away goal scored by the Spanish side to be extremely vital. Chelsea was forced to go into this leg with victory on their minds, as a draw would have had to be a scoreless one in order to force extra time.
Chelsea lined up a strong lineup in front of their London faithful, but Barcelona had no such luck. Barca had to make up for the absence of missing centrebacks Marquez (injury) and Puyol (suspension), sending Toure in the back away from his dominant defensive midfielder position. In the front the absence of injured striker Thierry Henry also caused a shake up to the Barca lineup forcing Iniesta to play more in the Henry role while Keita and Busquets filled in, in the midfield.
Once underway at Stamford Bridge, Barcelona was quick to grasp control of possession as usual. But they weren’t the first side to leave their mark, as in the 9th minute Michael Essien scored on a breathtaking volley from 25 yards out. Ashley Cole did well to shake a defender and play Lampard, whose play on the ball was blocked by a Barcelona defender, but Essien was there to unleash a left footed volley that left Valdes no chance, glancing it off the bar and in. A strike for the ages by Essien and one that is sure to top goal of the week countdowns worldwide. No blame could be dealt on any Barca player on this one, as it was just a pure moment of brilliance from Essien.
The Chelsea defence continued to look organized throughout the first 20 minutes of play and in my opinion even sharper then in the first leg. In the 23rd minute, Lampard was able to gather a giveaway in the midfield and quickly send Drogba in past the last defender, but a rushing out Victor Valdes was just able to clear the threat with a thrusted leg. A minute later Chelsea put some more scares into their opponents when Malouda was brought down just on the edge of the box giving Drogba a dangerous free kick attempt from a tight angle. Malouda outworked Alves on the wing and despite his landing in the area the ref made the correct decision in awarding the kick just outside the area where the initial contact was. Drogba smashed his effort on net where Valdes was in position to knee it wide. Valdes could be labeled as fortunate on that save, as he seemed to not even see the buzzing shot coming. Seconds later Drogba was chipped behind the defense yet again by Lampard. This time he was just too slow to gather possession and a minor tug and some contact sent him down in the area in appeal for a penalty that was rightfully not given. Abidal definitely was pressing his luck though, as Drogba has won penalties on such occurrences before. The match began to open up around this time. Daniel Alves committed yet another foolish foul and received a costly booking, as if Barca were to advance he would be suspended for the final and had become a threat to be sent off for the rest of the match with his wild style of play.
A bloody lip from Frank Lampard was all that was needed to slow up a the fast pace of a match that had developed between the 20th and 30th minute, Keita was lucky not to be booked for an unintentional flailing elbow.
There were many times at the end of the half where all 11 Chelsea players could fit in the picture on their defensive end of the pitch. The Blues went into the half with the 1-0 lead and their heads held high after a strong 1st half performance. Barcelona was going to need a moment of brilliance, or a costly mistake from a well organized Chelsea defence if they were to score in the 2nd half.
The second half got underway when Chelsea almost doubled their lead in the 52nd minute. Anelka effectively penetrated the Barca defense drawing Drogba’s defender before slipping a ball to Drogba himself. Drogba with time and space just inside the box patiently shot faked a desperate sliding defender effectively; only to be robbed on his left side footed effort by a sliding out Victor Valdes. Drogba looked smooth but this was a finish we all expect of him, but that being said two thumbs up for Valdes on that huge save.
But in the 66th minute a horrific turn of events ensued for Barca as a bouncing ball broke through the defense and Anelka went down in what was apparently was initiated forced contact from the last defender in Abidal. The referee interpreted Abidal to be the last defender in denying his opponent a clear goal-scoring attempt and issued the back a red card. This was a tough decision as it can easily be debated that this wasn’t a clear goal scoring opportunity. This made the challenge even steeper for Barca, as they were now a man down. Amidst all of this chaos Drogba was forced off the pitch limping and needed to be substituted off in the 72nd minute.
Alex was booked in the 77th minute and would have consequently missed the final for Chelsea after a sloppy challenge on Messi. Minutes later Anelka sparked the crowd as he burst into the area going down in a heap after minor contact from Toure. Another penalty plead and once again it was rightfully denied. But just after that Malouda headed a ball towards Anelka in the front, where the Frenchman was just able to touch it by Pique, only for the defender to quite clearly strike the ball with his hand out of the striker’s path in the area. Penalty claims arose again and this time rightfully so, as this was a clear penalty. One can only think it wasn’t given just to make up for the earlier botched red card decision.
Into stoppage time it went, with the Blues leading 1-0, little did we know that utter chaos was about to occur. Backs against the wall, Barcelona couldn’t put one shot on target for all 90 minutes of play until the 93rd minute when Iniesta struck the suspenseful outside of the boot tailing hit, that beat a stretched Cech and gave Barca the away goal that the Spanish side was waiting for all night. Essien has to take the blame for this one, as his lazy botched clearance allowed Messi to gather and lay off for Iniesta and his strike for the ages. Iniesta ripped off his jersey in celebration and most thought that was all there was to it at Stamford Bridge, but the excitement and controversy continued. The 96th minute was Chelsea’s last gasp and effort as Michael Ballack smashed a volley that struck Eto’s upper arm as it was blindly stretched out in the penalty box. Ballack was incensed by the referee waiving play on, and I am going to have to agree with Ballack in this one. It’s questionable, but after the last clear penalty claim was denied this one had to be called in my opinion. Ballack got face to face with the referee and chased him down the pitch in rage.
The final whistle blew and just like that, at the death, Barcelona advanced on to the final to face Manchester United. After showing no signs of getting a shot on target throughout the entire match, Barcelona star Iniesta came through when it mattered most to devastate Chelsea and their supporters at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea might have played the better match, but their failure to capitalize on their scoring opportunities, and lack of luck with the referee doomed them in the end.
I must say what at halftime looked to be a greatly officiated match from the man in the middle, turned into what can be labeled a disaster by the final whistle. All the correct calls and perfect decisions in all moments of controversy in the first half were handled perfectly, just for the exact opposite to occur in the second half. I feel for the referee as you hope that these deciding decisions are kept at a minimum but he got a boatload thrown at him in this match, and as these tournaments run deeper, the calls become more and more magnified due to their importance and impact on who goes on to lift the trophy.
So when tallying up the refs controversial decisions you are left with…
1) Barcelona receiving an incorrect red card (Abidal) and having to play a man down from the 66th minute.
2) A missed penalty for Chelsea when Pique clearly handed the ball in the area denying Anelka a direct scoring chance. This evens up for the red card offense.
3) And another missed penalty for Chelsea on the Ballack 96th minute volley off Eto’s arm.
This clearly points to Chelsea getting the short end of the stick in this one. You have to feel for the Blues in the referee’s decisions, but they obviously have themselves to blame too.
So the dream final is in place for Roma on the 27th of May, Manchester United vs. Barcelona. What many consider the two best clubs in the world this season, will face-off for the right to be called Champions of European club futbol. It is sure to be a classic.
Cech- 5.0 Not challenged at all throughout the match. One shot on goal and one conceded goal.
Cole- 6.5 Played key role in Chelsea’s organized back line in this match. Played his part in the setup to Essien’s goal. Contributed well in the containing of Messi.
Terry- 7.5 Strong showing from the captain. Was firm in his tackles and organized the central defense to his best ability. One of his best showings in Europe in recent times.
Alex- 6.5 Solid aerial presence throughout the match in the back for the Blues.
Bosingwa- 7.0 Intervened many Barcelona possessions and was a constant threat to dispossess any attacker sent his way.
Essien- 6.0 An absolutely phenomenal volley for the opening goal, but as great as that goal was, his botched clearance that led to Iniesta’s strike could seen to be just as awful. Tough fall from the heavens to the doghouse for the Ghanaian midfielder.
Ballack- 7.0 Strong in the defensive midfield throughout the match. Was constantly helping the back four to disrupt the Barcelona possession once it approached the area. Should have won a penalty in the 96th minute.
Lampard- 7.5 Opportunities sprung from the English playmakers foot all match. He sent Drogba through for two golden opportunities and was involved in Essien’s first strike. Not to mention the handful of times he won possession back for his side by retreating to the defensive end.
Malouda- 6.0 Nice showing by the Frenchman. Fit his role, but did nothing to stand out or make a difference in this important match.
Anelka- 5.5 Was basically nonexistent until he sprayed Drogba through and was forced to fill in for Drogba once he was subbed off. Did solid job from that point on.
Drogba- 6.5 Was a threat as usual throughout his stay on the pitch, but didn’t get the breakthrough strike that he’s been known to produce. Was strong in the air and who knows what would have been if he wasn’t subbed off because of a knock.
Valdes- 7.0 The Barcelona keeper came up big in denying Drogba multiple times to keep this match within one strike of the ball.
Abidal- 5.5 Decent match for the left back. Didn’t apply much attacking presence but was unjustly expulsed from the match when Anelka went down mid 2nd half.
Toure- 8.0 YaYa once again performed on a World Class level. Was constantly intervening Chelsea attacks and opportunities. Bullish in the back and managed to use his physicality in an efficient way to shut down numerous dangerous chances from Drogba and Anelka.
Pique- 6.0 Hard working performance from the centreback. Was always involved in play and helped the push for the equalizer late. Lucky not to be punished for his hand ball in the box.
Daniel Alves- 5.0 Constantly going full speed and sending in multiple balls from start to finish, but none of them were effective. Wasted almost any possession he had, despite the fact that he was relentlessly fighting. Way too sloppy and wild in his defensive game, Malouda got the best of him again.
Busquets- 5.5 Played his role well. Linked up to his playmakers and won possession in the midfield all while keeping everything simple.
Keita- 4.5 Out of place on the pitch. Couldn’t perform or compete on this high level competitive match. Clearly the worst of what Barcelona had to offer.
Xavi Hernandez- 6.0 Not the match we expected from the captain, but he respectably distributed simple balls and contributed a lot to the possession and field position for his side.
Iniesta- 8.0 Was constantly the most effective attacker for his side, and his stunning clutch goal at the death boosted his rating on thrill alone. He, Toure, and Valdes are clearly the reasons that Barca is in the final.
Messi- 6.0 Not much from the Argentine, but still was constantly involved and showing his great dribbling ability and ball control. The clutter in the back clearly devastates his 1-2 passing style in the attacking end.
Eto’o- 4.5 Absolute no show from the striker in this one. Bout all there is to say.
Man of the Match- Iniesta, Barcelona