In the most exciting of circumstances, Chelsea and Bayern Munich achieved a most unlikely double this week by defeating the two giants of Spanish football in the Semi Finals of the Champions League. Chelsea knocked out reigning European Champions, Barcelona, 3-2 on aggregate on Tuesday night after gaining a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp whilst Bayern saw off Real Madrid in the Bernabeu after a penalty shoot-out on Wednesday.
Both games were overloaded with excitement, with the victorious teams winning through against all the odds and in Chelsea’s case, against impossible circumstances after being reduced to ten men following captain, John Terry’s, sending off and two nil down!
Following a 1-0 lead from the first leg then impetuous was on Barcelona and their intense pressure finally forced a mistake allowing the ball to find its way to Sergio Busquets in a position where he simply passed the ball into a gaping net after 35 minutes.
Terry’s dismissal soon followed following an after the ball incident which saw Terry knee Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez in the back of his leg and this left the Blues with no recognisable central defensive partnership after Gary Cahill had limped off the pitch in the first ten minutes with a hamstring injury. It took Barca just seven minutes to extend their lead when Iniesta struck the second, a goal which everyone thought would be the “final nail in Chelsea’s coffin” – except of course the remaining Chelsea players and interim Head Coach Roberto Di Matteo.
On the stroke of half time, Chelsea’s Ramires found a run to the edge of Barcelona’s box to meet a superb through ball delivered by Frank Lampard and the Brazilian audaciously chipped the ball over Barca keeper, Victor Valdes, head and into the empty net. The goal brought the aggregate score to 2-2 but crucially it put Chelsea back in the “driving seat” on the away goal rule.
Chelsea’s ten men went out for the second half knowing that they had just 45 minutes to survive but to survive against a side that had scored 104 goals at the Nou Camp this season was a tough ask!
It certainly seemed the tie was over early in the second half when an accidental trip in the Chelsea box made by Didier Drogba on Lionel Messi gave the home side the chance that they needed. The penalty also provided the Argentine International and World player of the year an opportunity to score his first ever goal against Chelsea. Incredibly his spot kick smacked heavily against the bar and bounced away to safety giving rise to the hope that this was after all going to be Chelsea’s night.
For the rest of the half, Barcelona attacked relentlessly while Chelsea defended heroically, shots were saved, tackles made, vital interceptions became common place and fouls were given away when nothing else would suffice. Cech was inspired in goal and in Drogba, Chelsea had a striker who gladly slotted into both full back positions when called upon and who also made a series of great defensive headers. He was also on hand when needed up front and held up the ball on its rare visits to the Barcelona half.
Attack after attack rained in on Chelsea’s beleaguered ten men but Barcelona, despite having 90% of the ball could not score a goal. They had the ball in the net but it was ruled offside and a glaring chance was wasted by Busquets who scooped his shot over the bar.
Barcelona were running out of ideas as the game wore on and Chelsea’s place in the final was confirmed when Fernando Torres broke clear on the counter attack, rounded Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal and score a minute into stoppage time. Torres, who had come on for an exhausted Didier Drogba could not have scored a more important goal to silence the many critics who have questioned his performances following the £50 million move to Stamford Bridge from Liverpool last year.
The second part of Chelsea’s battle to win the one trophy that has eluded them since Roman Abramovich took over ownership of the club in 2003 will take place at the Allianz Arena in Munich where the Blues will face Bayern Munich, who become the first team in the Champions League era to hold home advantage in the final.
Di Matteo is the ninth manager during Abramovich’s tenure to try and deliver Champions League success at Stamford Bridge and whilst the odds favour the Germans, after overcoming Barcelona, Di Matteo and this Chelsea team will be confident of defying the odds once again.