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|Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona: Didier Drogba the difference at Stamford Bridge as Blues grab first leg lead|
Didier Drogba gave Chelsea a smash-and-grab 1-0 win over Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge. The defending champion left to revert the scoreline next week at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona held most of the possession in the match and even the most partisan Blue fan would admit that Chelsea were fortunate not to be three goals down by half time, let alone one to the good.
If there is one way the English side in Europe's premier club competition could compete against Barcelona, it is in the air. Long balls, long throw-ins, tactical discipline and effective counter-attacking football was to be the winning formula.
The first major opportunity fell to Alexis Sánchez, who hit the bar on nine minutes after he was played onside by a retreated Ashley Cole on the offside trap. Fábregas then missed a clear chance scuffing his finish wide after Cech failed to hold on to Andrés Iniesta’s low drive.
It was a match that the home side relied on holding substantial pressure and relegated its territory in its own half. John Terry committed a blatant foul without the ball on Sánchez that went to no avail of the referee. Defenders Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill also showed their much dirtier and thuggish side to their roles.
Iniesta had a penalty appeal waved away when Gary Cahill dispossessed him in the area with his use of the arm pushing the Spanish international off the ball. Was it a penalty? To many it was although Cahill did challenge the ball also and that seemed to have determined the decision by German referee Felix Brych to play on.
For all their backs-to-the-wall defending, Chelsea were firing warning shots on the break. They had to. Barcelona tried to open out wide with offensive wing-back Dani Alves but Ashley Cole was up to the task at hand.
Rain began to fall at Stamford Bridge changing a bit of the conditions and a more wet surface allowed Barcelona to move the ball more swiftly along the ground, a trademark for its style of play.
Relying on Didier Drogba up front was let down by his touch at times on a couple of occasions but was still threatening on the break. His crossings and movement to behind Barcelona's back two of Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano seemed to have struggled at times.
Again Fábregas missed an opportunity to give the Catalans the lead, sent through by Lionel Messi and clipping a deft finish over Cech but denied on the line by Cole.
Deep into injury time at the end of the first half, the Ivorian big-game specialist made his mark. The Argentine lost the ball in midfield allowing Frank Lampard to scoop a high pass to Ramires bounding down the left: the Brazilian had a sight of goal but, at a tight angle, kept his cool to drill a low ball across the sliding Mascherano and Puyol for Drogba to gobble up a low finish at the far post.
The second half had a similar pattern to it: Barça stroked the ball around patiently to create openings but needed to put Chelsea under fire by shooting from long-range. They lacked that component and playing the ball and searching for set plays. As Chelsea happily sat back for a good half hour. Barça continuted generating pretty patterns but were kept at bay by some determined defending.
Adriano also had more chances on the left with some surging runs, shifting the paradigm of possession and ball passing to try and open up a tight-knit and strict Chelsea midfield. Sánchez was again denied in a one-on-one with only Cech to beat but hide wide of the mark.
The final minutes saw the inevitable rally as Barça threw everything at Chelsea, with Cech alert and agile to keep out a clever Puyol header from a nice, crisp Messi free-kick. It was a fine move and the only way Barça could beat Chelsea in the air.
Chelsea kept holding Barça off by fair means and foul, the final minute of injury time saw Barça miss a golden opportunity to get a valuable away goal: Messi’s low ball in was delightfully backheeled by Sergio Busquets, with Terry’s intervention staving off one finish but allowing Pedro coming in from the left to drill a low passing shot past Cech. It hit the post and, with the goal at his mercy, Busquets could only hammer the ball clear of the crossbar.
That last action summed up the night. Barça needs to turn the page over and focus on "el Clásico" on the weekend at the Camp Nou and back for the revenge in the second-leg three days later. It will be a match where the Catalans will need to show more finishing if they are to impose its authority against a proud Chelsea side that will not show signs of giving up.