Magnificent. Last night Chelsea produced one of their best ever Champions League performances just when they needed it.
Chelsea have plenty of recent history with Barcelona in this competition and after the injustice back in 2009 this one was always going to be a extra tense affair. There really is no love lost between these two.
Didier Drogba's 45th minute strike (left) was enough to give Chelsea a 1-0 victory over Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final. Barcelona dominated with nearly 80% procession in the game although just could not find a way through the stubborn Chelsea defence. However at times, as you need to in these sort of games, Chelsea had the luck.
In the first half Cesc Fabregas had two wonderful chances to put Barcelona ahead. Firstly after an Andres Iniesta shot could only be parried by Petr Cech, Fabregas from all of 8 yards sliced his effort wide with the goal at his mercy. Fabregas was then sent clean through one-on-one with Cech, he chipped past Cech however it was the terrific Ashley Cole, who got back to make a sublime goal line clearance. Fabregas also had another shot well saved by Cech, and you started to feel it was not going to be his night. Also in the first half Andres Iniesta put Alexis Sanchez clear with a wonderful chip over the top of the Chelsea defence. Sanchez also lobbed the on rushing Cech only to see his effort hit the bar.
However then in the the 45th minute Lionel Messi lost the ball to Frank Lampard just inside the Chelsea half. Lampard then provided a stunning reverse pass to set Ramires clear. Ramires then cut it back to Drogba who left-foot finish found the net. For me Victor Valdes should take some blame for his effort to save it. If he has lead with his hands and not with his feet I am sure he would have stopped it.
Guardiola left ruing missed opportunities
Into the second half and the pressure once again continued from Barcelona. Chelsea were throwing themselves in front of Barcelona shots, with Gary Cahill makes two crucial blocks. Then as time seemed to be running out Barcelona had possibly their best chance of the game. In the 90th minute Pedro shot hit the post and Sergio Busquets following in from all of 8 yards blazed his effort high over the bar. Pep Guardiola (left) cut the look of a frustrating man as the final whistle blow.
Last night performance from Chelsea was remarkable. The winning performance on Sunday over Tottenham was one of a Chelsea team of a few years ago. The big guns of Frank Lampard, Ashely Cole and John Terry and for me the most important influence of Didier Drogba all performed. This was also the case last night. It was almost like watching Chelsea under Jose Mourinho for me. Disciplined, dogged and resilient. Also a feature of his Inter Milan side who knocked Barcelona out 2 years ago at this stage. A further point is even though Mourinho has been gone nearly 5 years, 6 of his signing were in the 16 as well as the like of Terry and Lampard who were key to his team. They always say the team's spine is key to success and look at Chelsea and it's spine of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba. All key components of Mourinho's Chelsea.
I have slated Chelsea at times this season, and deserved so, however last night performance deserves nothing but praise and admiration. To beat Barcelona is an incredible feat and one that should be acknowledged. Against a team that has the best player in the world in Messi, who Chelsea managed to keep reasonably quiet, and contains some of the greatest midfield men in the world Chelsea stepped up and performed. Yes, they are still up against it and face another enormous and greater challenge in the return leg next week but they showed last night why the fans will have hope. They have given themselves a fighting chance. Not conceding an away goal was another major bonus. For me I see more Chelsea as having a better chance then Arsenal did in the previous two years when they travel to the Nou Camp. This is partly due to the way they will play. I wrote at the time that Arsenal needed to play ugly to win however did not and got hammered with Arsene Wenger's pure football. Chelsea will make it tough and anything could happen.
Ash 'King' Cole - without doubt Man of the Match
Roberto Di Matteo does also deserve plaudits with his tactics and team selection. Although I am not sure he is the one picking them. The players are playing as we know they can and not the producing the woeful performances they put in under Andre Villas Boas. They are playing with pride, hunger and passion. A team-performance it was and all those who played deserve great credit. The likes of John Obi Mikel played the best I have ever seen and Gary Cahill proved his International class however two players really stood up for me.
Ashley Cole (right) for me had the best game he has had for 2 years. Last night I saw just why he has been quoted as the best left back in the world. His all round performance was terrific. He was up and down the left hand side all night. His clearance of the line, his energy and professionalism impressed me. Ashley Cole has had his off the field problems and is one who regularly moans at the referee. However last night I did not see this side of Cole. His performance was one of maturity and drive. It was great to see, as it shows just how good he can be when 100% focused. It was performances like this one as to why Chelsea brought him back in 2006. For me he was without doubt man of the match.
The second was that of Didier Drogba. This a man written off by many, including myself as past his best and to be soon moving on. I still believe he is past his best although in the last two matches his has produced performances of near his best. His hold-up play and all round game has stood out. Yes, he has received plenty of criticism for his 'antics' and the amount of time he spent on the floor but the job he did for his team was what was needed. Also after his superb finish at the weekend, he seemed to be back in the hunt for goals and this is why he had to be picked over Fernando Torres. In a game such as this, playing the counter-attacking way, you are only going to get max 3 chances if that and you need a man who is going to finish them. Torres at the moment is not that man. Torres' lack of confidence in his own ability is clear for all to see. He reminds me of Andrey Shevchenko back in 2006/2007 season. A great player but just did not fit it. Torres is the same, again brought in for a large sum and at the want of the owner rather then manager. He does not look to me as 'part of the gang' if you will. He looks an outsider. I personally think Torres will leave in the summer and think he should. If he did move club I can see him returning to form and getting the goals once again. But for me, it will never work out at Chelsea for Fernando Torres.
It will be interesting to see which team Terry selects next week for the return fixture as Chelsea attempt to get a result in the Nou Camp. If Chelsea can grab a goal it will make it interesting. For me they will need to score to have a chance.
In this kind of form, Chelsea have a great chance to go through to the final. It also helps them as they try to achieve top-four in the Premier League. This weekend against Arsenal is massive. Can the Chelsea old guard many in their 30's produce over four games, at the intensity these have been played in. In the first two they have gained an FA Cup Final and Champions League hope, producing the the next two could give them top-four finishing hope and a Champions League final. Chelsea have it all to play for.