Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and you can add controversy whenever these sides meet. One thing that is not so certain is Chelsea reaching a Champions League final. For The Blues have come so close, yet so far, in the last decade. But tonight was the night the history books were re-written. Tonight was the night Chelsea produced their best night in their history. Tonight was the night Fernando Torres scored the crushing goal. And somehow, you feel tonight was the night where Roman Abramovich gives Di Matteo the job.
But for all Chelsea’s troubles, a heavy price has been paid. Captain, Leader, Legend in John Terry received his marching orders after a petulant, knee-jerk swipe at Sanchez. Add to that a Cahill injury, Ramires and Meireles suspension, couple with an Ivanovic suspension too, and Chelsea look thin on the ground. How costly could that Alex transfer be now?
Not for the last twenty years have Barcelona failed to win after leading 2-0. But Chelsea had drawn on their last three meetings to the Nou Camp. Of all the 53 teams Guardiola has faced as Barcelona manager from 2008, Chelsea are the only side he has not beaten.
Despite a Chelsea first-leg advantage, Barcelona still had to be the favourites. Add to that a noisy Camp Nou and potential for the referee to be swayed by the home crowd’s response, Chelsea would have been forgiven had they thought their luck might just run out.
Roberto Di Matteo stuck with the same side that played in the first-leg, but that was already broken up just twelve minutes in. Cahill was forced off injured after doing the splits clearing a Sanchez shot, forcing Chelsea into an earlier substitution, with Ivanovic moving in and Bosingwa coming in at right-back.
Barcelona were keen to test out this make-shift Chelsea defence, but Barcelona suffered a defensive set-back themselves. Cech opted for a route one clearance, and in attempting to stop Drogba, Valdes too clattered with Pique. The former Manchester United man had to be replaced.
Barcelona were unfazed and kept on coming. Cech spread himself well to deny Messi, using all the experience in him to once again remind the world of his hero status.
But as Barcelona grew, it was inevitable they would soon level the tie up. One lapse in concentration for Chelsea allowed Cuenca space to sqaure to Busquets, who rolled it into an empty net from five yards out.
This was the time now for cool heads by Chelsea, to steady the ship and stop Barcelona’s momentum. But of all people to let the club down, it was the captain. The rush of blood further compounded Chelsea misery, leaving Chelsea a mountain to climb, and with just Ivanovic as a real central defender.
Ramires was drafted in as an emergency right-back, Bosingwa having to come inside some more.
The hard task looked impossible when Barcelona doubled their lead minutes later. Iniesta timed his run to perfection and slotted home a Messi pass past the onrushing Cech. Even the most passionate of fan was fearing a second half drubbing.
Ramires was booked for protesting that Iniesta was offside, but once he got over that, he handed Chelsea the advantage back. Putting defensive duties aside, Ramires found Lampard, and continued running down the right. Lampard managed to escape a circle of Barcelona players to find the Brazilian on the other end, who showed tremendous composure to lift the ball over Valdes. A Barcelona-esque goal that would spoil Barcelona’s evening.
The half-time whistle blew seconds after and it would be anyone’s guess who would be the happier camp going into half-time.
But when Drogba was adjudged to have clattered Fabregas in the box early in the second half, and Messi was to take the penalty, it was very possible that a 3-1 lead would kill off all Chelsea hope.
But Chelsea’s luck continued. Messi somehow clattered the bar, and Meireles cleared.
Would Barcelona suffer mentally from this miss? They would. Kalou was brought on for Mata, who was rendered irrelevant in Chelsea’s ultra-defensive system, but still the back-line had to be wary, Cech saving from Cuenca. The big goalkeeper was booked for time-wasting from the ensuing kick, with Cakir’s decision influenced by the home crowd’s displeasure at the keeper’s patience.
But still Barcelona came. Chance after chance, Busquets, Messi, Sanchez, Messi once more.
We approached the final ten minutes and Drogba went off for Torres. The Spaniard had scored two braces in his previous two meetings with Barcelona (playing for Atletico Madrid).
But his immediate role was to defend. All of Chelsea seemed to be defenders, Meireles squeezed in as another right-back alongside Ramires, Mikel looked comfortable as a central defender, Lampard maintained whatever shape Chelsea were playing.
Barcelona were getting frustrated. Chelsea did not park the bus but the entire depot. Meireles was booked for a tackle, stopping a Barca attack, surrendering his potential Champions League Final place.
Cech pushed a Mascherano shot round the post, Messi had hit the post earlier. This was destined for a last-minute Barcelona goal. Fans at home would have probably, secretly, felt there would have been a last-minute Barca penalty. More controversy yet again.
And that nearly happened. Xavi’s pass quite clearly hit Ashley Cole’s chest, but nothing stopped them from protesting.
And nothing stopped Chelsea from counter-attacking. Cole lumped the ball forward. Torres raced onto it. Every Barcelona outfield player were in Chelsea’s half. This was one-on-one with Valdes. This was the moment history was to be created. Torres rounded Valdes, and settled the tie.
A Champions League final awaits. Be it Madrid or Munich, Chelsea deserved it for their efforts. They have shown Manchester City how to defeat Napoli, Manchester United how to beat Benfica, the world how to prevail against Barcelona. Xavi made more passes (161) in the match than the entire Chelsea team (146). But the two that counted most were Lampard to Ramires in both legs. And you sense, this could be Chelsea’s year.