Champions League: Chelsea Unlucky, But Barcelona Win Is A Victory For Football

Goal.com's Peter Staunton gathers the fall-out from a memorable Champions League encounter...

Be honest.
Who was screaming at the television, demanding Pep Guardiola change something, anything as the second half went on. Chelsea looked comfortable holding Barcelona at arms-length, albeit as comfortable as Sunderland looked holding Manchester United goalless for 90 minutes at Old Trafford earlier in the Premier League season.

At home and with the advantage handed to them by an exquisite strike of rare beauty from the left-foot of Michael Essien, Chelsea's task resembled that which faced them last week in Camp Nou. Stop Barcelona doing what they do best. Playing football.

And they did it. Barca did not have a single shot on goal. And they were denied at least two, maybe three, possibly four penalties. But the penalties should not be the whole story, even though the decisions of the Norwegian referee influenced the outcome beyond argument.

Chelsea did manage to unlock the Barcelona defence, with Eric Abidal in particular being heavy-legged. But they did not dominate. They played like an away side, twice. They chased the ball, like Jack Russells after pebbles. They could not string their passes together in either game, aside from Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack. They were harried and harassed into mistakes and allowed the Blaugrana to recycle possession time and time again.

When the team in yellow overturned the ball, even when requiring a goal of their own, they did the same thing with it. Over and over. They sought Lionel Messi, they sought Andres Iniesta, they looked to play one-twos off the delicate feet of Samuel Eto'o with his back to goal. Their task, after going one behind, did not change. And neither did their outlook, despite the lack of joy up front.

Armchair pundits the length of the continent would have wanted Guardiola to stir the pot and alter things. Another forward; Eidur Gudjohnsen perhaps. Withdraw and ineffective performer, Messi and Iniesta both foraged for impact in vain. Alex and John Terry in particular saw to that.

But is he capable? The young coach does not convince that he is possessed of the tactical nous to influence a game from the sidelines. He gives the impression of only being able to show his hand from the outset and trust entirely in the application of his players.

For his part, Guus Hiddink showed more innovation in his selections, even if they were each as pragmatic as the other. The Dutchman knew exactly what it would take to oust Barcelona from this competition and was only a minute away from achieving it. He deserves to be lauded and Chelsea will be weaker in his absence.

Then, a bolt from the blue, a breakthrough, a eureka. Essien missed a clearance off the back of a decent Daniel Alves cross. Two events that were conspicuous by their respective absences for nigh-on 180 minutes of football. And we had it. Messi - Iniesta - Pick It Out Petr.

One shot, one goal and a Champions League final. It did not come from a hack, hoof or a dubiously won penalty kick. It came from a trust in convictions and a willingness to stick by a plan.

Barcelona are a better football team than Chelsea. They proved that by limiting the Blues to containment and damage limitation. And Chelsea are not a third-tier side, visiting a Premier League ground in an FA Cup day out. They are a team of multi-million euro footballers and international captains.

For doing that, with ten men, Barcelona demand respect and admiration. Granted, with another referee, we could be relishing Chelsea and Manchester United, but then shouldn't the European Cup final pit the two best teams on the continent against each other?

Source: Peter Staunton, Goal.com

Player Rating: Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona

Andres Iniesta's last-gasp equaliser on the night earned Barcelona a place in the Champions League final at the expense of Chelsea. Goal.com rates the participants...

Chelsea:

Cech 6.0 Beaten by the only shot that came on target. Unlucky in that sense, but he aimed some clearances out of play.

Bosingwa 7.0 Took a no nonsense approach to his defensive duties, willing to concede corners when Daniel Alves managed to plant his crosses in the box. Attacking raids were limited but so too were Iniesta's contributions from the left for over 90 minutes.

Terry 8.0 Marshalled the defence expertly; barking orders and pulling his troops into line. A lot of Barcelona's play was in front of him, but he was on hand with blocks and headers throughout.

Alex 7.5 The brawn at the heart of the defence. There's little subtlety to Alex's play; swift challenges, strong aerial presence.

A Cole 6.5 Was an integral component in the Chelsea back-line. Held the line well and got forward early to help set-up Essien's goal.

Essien 6.0 Two key contributions; the spectacular goal, which, in my opinion, was better than Zidane's 2002 effort and his poor clearance that allowed Barca to prompt Iniesta's leveller. Was vital to Chelsea's defensive plans but his jaded effort in injury time ultimately cost his side.

Ballack 7.0 Solid and unspectacular; story of his Champions League campaign. Displayed economy in his passing, on a night when Chelsea did not have much of the ball. Lost his head after the equaliser.

Lampard 7.5 On a night when his touches were always likely to be limited, he wasted barely a pass that came his way. His forward run set up Essien's screamer, eventually. As the game ebbed to his end, he was the one tackling and picking up the pieces.

Malouda 8.0 A fine outing. Even the rampant Daniel Alves was forced into a more defensive role than usual. Committed, capable and willing to pitch in inside his own half. Caused no end of trouble.

Anelka 6.5 Responsible for one defender being handed his marching orders and could have also had Pique dismissed late on when he might have had one of a number of Chelsea penalties. Looked a goal threat when he replaced Drogba as the focal point but was disciplined in his duties out wide.

Drogba 6.5 Usually loves this opposition and caused some trouble for them tonight. Drew fouls, won his flick-ons but his finishing skills were not up to speed. Should have sealed the deal just past the hour. Disgraced himself after the whistle with his behaviour towards the referee.

Subs

Belletti n/a Filled in well.

Barcelona:

Valdes 7.0 Made a number of key stops and acted as a sweeper of sorts when Barca sought to recycle possession quickly.

Alves 6.5 More wing-back than full-back but displayed a really poor standard of delivery on crosses right until the last minute when he caused havoc. Frustration earned him a card too.

Pique 8.0 Good showing. Wore his heart on his sleeve and executed his duties with relish. No comfort for Drogba and Anelka against the former Manchester United man who excelled in a piecemeal back-line.

Toure 8.0 Enjoyed his tussle with compatriot Drogba; rugged in the tackle but assured in possession. May have been a makeshift centre-back but showed little rustiness. A commendable display from a powerful competitor.

Abidal 5.0. Lucky not to have conceded a penalty against Drogba in the first half, but was harshly adjudged to have denied Nicolas Anelka a clear goalscoring opportunity. Did not influence the game beyond the necessary contributions in any case.

Busquets 6.0 A better second half than first; he found space to drive through and support his attackers, even if the final ball lacked.

Xavi 6.5 Saw a lot of the ball, acting as a focal point as usual for his team. However, few key passes came from the educated feet of the captain.

Keita 5.5 The least prominent of the midfield trio; urgency and bite were not apparent.

Iniesta 7.5 Grew into the game and stole the limelight in the closing seconds. The epitome of Barcelona's "football only" policy. Never lost his composure, never gave up his technique and patience.

Messi 5.5 A limited, limited showing. Does not relish Premier League competition. Marked out of the game again and contributed little other than another wide shot.

Eto'o 5.0 Anonymous in front of goal. No shot on target and drifted far too much to the left in the first half, leaving his team without a centre-forward.

Subs

Bojan n/a

Gudjohnsen n/a

Sylvinho n/a


Source: Peter Staunton, Goal.com

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