Isn’t this why we love football! In 08-09, Barca came to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of a champions league semi final and knocked us out under controversial circumstances with a stoppage time heartbreaker. Football Gods thought it’s only fair that we get an exact same opportunity for revenge. Chelsea goes to Camp Nou for the second leg of the champions league semi final and breaks Catalan hearts at the stoppage time! Revenge is indeed sweet!
The defeat in 08-09 was bitter. It was very bitter due not only to the controversial circumstances but also the manner in which Barca went through with a last minute goal. That performance that night by Chelsea against Barca was the best I have seen any team play against Barca in a game of that significance. Still Barca went through. I’m sure no Chelsea fan has forgotten that and I’m sure we were all waiting for a chance to give it back to them. It was so painful that night that my hatred for Barca only grew manyfold. Personally, I hadn’t forgotten that and I have been waiting for this moment. And pay back time had arrived.
Chelsea were underdogs before the first leg and surprisingly were still underdogs before the second leg despite securing a good 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge. The folks at Ten Sports (that telecast the game in India) were predicting 4-1, 3-0 and 3-0 for Barca. No one even gave a chance. Was there a pundit who said Chelsea will eliminate Barca at Camp Nou?
Honestly, I wouldn’t blame if someone expected Barca to win given their recent track record but the stats also say Chelsea have always been a thorn in Barca’s flesh. Barca have always acknowledged that Chelsea have been their toughest opponent to date. Chelsea is one team Barca struggle to beat or even score against. Chelsea have the best head-to-head record with this Barca team – I mean the best head-to-head record against the best team in the world. Messi has scored exactly ZERO goals against Chelsea in the 8 games he has played against us. Despite all this, no one gave us a chance. How silly was that?
The game did start with Barca being widely regarded as favourites to progress to the final, almost dismissing the first leg performance and result by Chelsea. And the game kicked off. I must say Camp Nou is really one of the most intimidating stadiums. It’s sheer size, design and capacity are immense. And the catalan rendition of the Barca fans sends shivers through my spine. You don’t get occasions bigger than this as a football player.
I can’t really explain the emotion at the time of kick off – a bundle of fear, anxiety, hope and excitement. I really don’t know what to call that. And I’m sure there’s no word for that in the dictionary. I might as well coin it – FEANHOEX – a combination of fear, anxiety, hope and excitement. I think that’s a football fan’s emotion. And that were to continue till the end of the game.
Just about 10 mins into the game the excellent Gary Cahill had to be subbed. I was so downbeat to see this man walk off. In my opinion, he was the man of the match in the first game (alongside Drogba and Ashley Cole) and he’s been brilliant for us since he came in. I have a feeling that he has in him to be the captain of Chelsea FC one day. I see him as a leader of not only the defensive organisation but also of the team. Not today, but someday for sure.
I was thinking that if we keep it clean by the half hour mark, it will be game on. We did that but couldn’t hold on for too long. 1-0 at ’35 and we were still in the game. And the customary red card at Camp Nou had to happen. John Terry was red carded for an off the ball incident. At first, I thought it was not a red cardable foul. I saw Terry raise his knee but I thought Sanchez went down too easily, probably without enough contact. Upon on repeated replays, it was clear that it was a stupid act by John Terry. Very disappointing to see him get him sent off like this in an important game for the club. Just like Drogba did in the champions league final in Moscow. Could he have scored the title-winning penalty instead of Terry that night? Probably.
I only want to see that the grounds on which Terry was red carded was applied consistently across the leagues and at least in this game. I saw Fabregas aggressively pulling down Lampard in an off the ball incident. No card. I saw Messi angrily pushing Lampard in an off the ball incident. No card. Here’s stupid Terry raising his knee and Sanchez goes down like he’s shot and Camp Nou erupts and that’s a red card. I agree Terry should have been sent off but only let’s apply it across the pitch. If Messi was also yellow carded for hugging and dragging Lampard back while he set on a counterattack. If you see how Lampard has been playing and supplying in this tie, that was a crucial moment where he looked to set off an attacking player. Messi got a yellow for that. And if he was booked for the push and shove of Lampard in the off the ball incident, there’s your second yellow for the best player in the world in the most important night of the season for this club. Not to be.
1-0 down and a man against Barca is nothing new to Chelsea. Been there, done that. We were still in the game but a second goal to Barca would definitely shift the momentum to them. It happened with another momentary disorganisation in defence, we were 2-0 down by 43′. At this moment, most people expected Barca to walk away with the match. They expected a 4-0 or 5-0 from Barca. How wrong! This is Chelsea FC playing here determined give their very best.
Very often people make the mistake to judging Chelsea like they might do other teams. The biggest difference between us and the other teams is that this Chelsea team is mentally very strong, very spirited and determined and highly resilient. These are qualities that cannot be displayed in possession stats or passing accuracy stats. These are reflected in the ultimate result.
Even though Barca were 2-0 up, I knew all that we needed was ONE goal. I even tweeted earlier that I want Barca to go 2-0 up, so we can score one at the stoppage time and go through. But we were a team in hurry. As soon as Barca scored that second goal, Chelsea’s rate of urgency increased immediately and were looking to score a goal. And all Chelsea need was just 2 mins to score that much wanted goal. Let me put it this way. As soon as we wanted to score a goal, we scored one. Only in the weekend el clasico, a smiliar thing had happened. Barca equalised in the 71st minute only for Ronaldo to score in the 73rd minute and signalling the crowd ‘calm down, relax, i’ve dealt with it’. Would have loved to see Ramires do that but he’s no showman.
Once again, a beautiful and timely pass from Lampard made the difference. Out of the three goals scored by Chelsea in this tie, two were created by superb passing from Lampard. His vision and delivery were outstanding for these two goals. And what to say of Ramires! He was booked by then and knew that he would not play the final if we made it. But he collected the ball and moved with grace and chipped Valdes like it was a training match. He wasn’t even an orthodox forward. The way he collected the ball and finished with composure summed up Chelsea in this tie. Chelsea have been quiet and calm and when they get their chance, never got too excited and just did the job – exactly like Ramires did.
Going into the half time at 2-1 was not bad. Being down a man at Camp Nou was bad. I was pretty sure Barca will come out all guns blazing int he second half and might even nick a goal before the 60th minute. And it nearly happened. Drogba fouled Fabregas in the box and that was a penalty. Again yes it was a foul and yes it was a penalty but the way Cesc simulated that whole thing was poor. Of course Drogba does it but he’s the bad guy, isn’t he? How come the gods and angels of football in FC Barcelona get away with such behaviour match after match?
When Messi measured up his spot kick, I was thinking ‘Ah! I won’t be able to say Messi has never scored against Chelsea anymore’. And I was visualising Cech making a save. Trust, I was visualising so much that I might have thought that was the reality. But then our Mr. Woodwork came to the rescue with another excellent block. Messi has been jinxed. Chelsea are his nemesis. And when the ball hit the bar, I knew that we were destined to win this tie. I’m sure that helped the belief of our players immensely. On the other hand, I’m sure it must have put serious doubts in the minds of the Barca players whether this was not going to be their night.
For the kind of performance that Petr Cech has delivered in this tie, I really wanted him to save that penalty as an icing on the cake. Petr Cech has not had a great couple of seasons by his high standards. He’s been guilty of many soft goals recently and I’ve been one of his critics myself for his near post weakness. But in this tie though, if Chelsea has progressed to the finals of the champions league, the first name on the credits should be Petr Cech. Being a goalkeeper in a Camp Nou goal while watching about 20 players on your half trying to walk the ball into the net must be one massive challenge for any goalkeeper. And Petr Cech saved his best performance of the season for Barca, as did many of our other players. Hats off to big Pete!
Messi clearly bottled it when it mattered. Had Barca gone 3-1 up, it would have been very difficult to get the ball off them. But on the other hand, if Chelsea were in a mood to score, we could have actually terrorised Barca defence. You could see that Valdes and Puyol were so terrified of Drogba. While we knew how Barca would attack and how to deal with it, Barca knew how Chelsea would attack and didn’t know how to deal with it. To our credit, the Drogba and Ramires goals weren’t route one goals. Those were long balls lobbed to Drogba/Ramires. Those were beautifully created and finished goals. Whereas Chelsea could see how Barca might score. Chelsea were never to be surprised, they only had to be alert and vigilant, where they weren’t they let in goals. But Barca were indeed surprised by the Chelsea goals.
Messi was quite angry that missed and he was on a rage with his cute dribbles for a while but Chelsea were too experienced to let him have it. It almost looked like Chelsea exactly knew how Messi and Barca would play and what would be their next move. In fact, Barca did play to Chelsea’s plan. They played into our hands.
Amidst all this, Chelsea were picking up yellow cards. Ramires, Ivanovic and Meireles will miss the final. And of course, John Terry. For all their service to Chelsea FC, I’m very gutted for them not to be able to participate and help Chelsea win the spectacle at Munich. But Jose Mourinho said this about his players on yellow card ahead of the second leg against Bayern: “Every player has to know that Real Madrid reaching the final is more important than them being there”. That’s exactly what these players did (barring John Terry).
After the 60th minute, both Barca and Chelsea were going through the motions. Barca lacked creativity. They were terribly predictable and even boring to an extent. Chelsea were dealing with them quite easily. In fact, I thought we were going to be plundered by Barca in the last 20 minutes. But it wasn’t to be. We were fairly comfortable in negotiating the Barca attacks. But I must tell you, those were 20 long minutes. It was the occasion and excitement that made the Chelsea and their fans so anxious than Barca and their attacks.
Barca though, have the quality to pop up with a late goal and finish the game. Every time Iniesta got the ball, my heart was beating faster and faster. This guy could produce something out of thin air. In my opinion, Iniesta is the best football player in the world. There’s no one quite like him. He’s lot more dangerous than any of the Barca players. As it got to the 80th minutes, I just couldn’t bear watching the game. I even considered switching off the TV and checking back well after the final whistle. But somewhere inside me, I knew this was going to be a historic night and I must witness it and celebrate it.
That’s when Torres came on for Drogba. I still don’t think it was right to sub off Drogba. In a game and a situation like this, Drogba can have a great defensive presence with his physicality and aerial ability. But he can sometimes be a liability in these scenarios as he’s a very emotional man. So Torres came on and played like he didn’t care. He was careless in his possession, he wasn’t fighting to keep or to win the ball. It was infuriating to see. Here’s a bunch of 10 men who played their hearts out for a cause and Torres could have given it all away with a moment of carelessness.
By the 90th minute, my FEANHOEX was reaching it peak levels breaking all its previous records. I wanted us to stay close, stay strong, put our lives at risk if need be to somehow somehow hold on to the 2-1 score until the end. And then, that happened.
In a typical stoppage time fracas, Ivanovic cleared the ball high and long and that landed with none other Fernando Torres! The man who had already scored more than half a dozen goals at Camp Nou. And by the way, it was no mindless clearance. Ivanovic knew where the lone Chelsea striker was on the pitch and dropped the ball was right at his feet. Torres ran through the Barca half as there was only Valdes and a historic goal in his chequered Chelsea career. And man, didn’t he take it well? I was hoping that he doesn’t chip Valdes. Lukcily he went around him ever so graciously and passed it to the net. He didn’t want to take a chance. Even personally, that was a very important goal for Torres. If he’d missed that, his career with Chelsea would have been over. The media would have made it so embarrassing for him even if Chelsea had progressed without that goal. He had to take that goal. He had to score the gaol that would put Chelsea in its second champions league final ever. And he bloody did.
What followed that was pure bliss and pure madness. I couldn’t even recollect that moment clearly. I was blacked off for a few seconds. That was ecstasy! This meant a lot. This meant quite a lot! What a night! What a performance! If you ever wanted to know what a heroic and historic performance is, this is it. Against all odds, with the man down – being our captain, losing our in-form impressive centre back to injury, going 2-0 down in this intimidating Camp Nou – we made it!
I hate Barca with a passion. But I won’t deny that they are the best team in the world. They have no plan B because their plan A works 99% of the time. And enter Chelsea to make up that 1%. I love it when it doesn’t work. And I love it even more when it’s because of Chelsea. Chelsea vs Barca has produced some historic matches in champions league. I didn’t want the last memory of this great matchup to be the sad end at Stamford Bridge by the last minute goal from Iniesta. I wanted to get over it. That’s why we had to win this tie. We had to give it back to these f***ers. And we had to give it like we got it. How long I waited to write this headline – “Chelsea Break Catalan Hearts At Camp Nou!”. Take that!!!