Last night I watched Chelsea reach the Champions League final with in my opinion one of the finest displays by an English team in Europe I have ever seen. Their first leg win was an impressive show of defensive resilience finished off with a killer counter-attacking goal, but they knew doing the same in Barcelona - they were never going to try to win any other way - would be something else.
I didn't give them much of a chance at kick-off, and losing Gary Cahill to injury, and John Terry to his stupid sending off either side of Barca's two goals seemed to spell the end for their hopes. Yet when Ramires stunned the home crowd with the away goal that put them in front in the tie, and then when Lionel Messi saw his penalty hit the bar, I started to sense that it could and then would be their night. I didn't necessarily think I wanted Chelsea to win before the game - I am not one of these fans that automatically roots for the English team in Europe - yet when Fernando Torres put the seal on the win, I couldn't have felt prouder of their efforts.
Sadly it came at a cost. John Terry deserved his red card and deserves to miss the final, yet Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles, and Ramires can all count themselves unlucky to all miss the Munich showpiece after picking up bookings at the Nou Camp. Some may say rules are rules, but personally I think accumulated yellow cards should be wiped clean at the semi-final stage to avoid final suspensions. The Champions League final is the biggest game in club football, and it seems a shame that we may see it played by under strength sides.
Roberto Di Matteo prepared for the game last night by making eight changes from the first leg for the Premier League draw at Arsenal last Saturday. That left Chelsea four points behind 4th-placed Newcastle with four games to go. I did think that 4th place represented their best chance of a return to the Champions League next season, but now I'm not so sure. They may be quite content to let the Premier League go if it means they can prepare for the final on the 19th May. I think they have every reason to believe that this year is finally the year they get their hands on the European Cup and get back in the Champions League not as one of England's top four, but as Europe's top one.