Cech gives Chelsea final hope
Guus Hiddink has given Chelsea's mission to erase the memories of last season's Champions League final heartbreak fresh drive and direction - but they fell back on the old reliables of durability and defensive discipline to blunt Barcelona in the Nou Camp.
This was not the place, or indeed the opposition, for the fluid attacking game that dismantled Liverpool at Anfield in the quarter-final first leg or the defensive frailty that saw Chelsea concede four in the return game on home soil.
Hiddink's natural attacking instincts were reined in to deliver a game plan designed to contain Barcelona's glorious approach play and the deadly finishing of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o.
It produced the required result - although a goalless draw is encouraging as opposed to decisive as a platform for when the sides meet again at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.
Chelsea have proved they can hold Barcelona. Now they must prove they can beat them.
Barcelona enjoyed huge supremacy in territory and possession, but Chelsea's resilience plus outstanding performances from goalkeeper Petr Cech and captain John Terry, in front of England coach Fabio Capello, left an expectant Catalan gallery frustrated at the final whistle.
Terry set the tone for his team-mates, mixing vital interceptions with uncompromising defence to keep Barcelona at arm's length, and when they did pierce Chelsea's rearguard Cech was in no mood to be beaten.
Cech has faced justified criticism recently, especially after performances that combined uncertainty and eccentricity in equal measure against Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League and Liverpool in that wildly fluctuating Champions League clash.
But in Barcelona, some early trouble with crosses aside, this was the imperious shot-stopping Cech of old, providing a formidable barrier on the occasions when the intricate passing of Pep Guardiola's side navigated a route through Chelsea's massed ranks of defensive defiance.
Cech saved well from Henry in the first half, then after the break denied Dani Alves,
Eto'o and crucially Alexander Hleb in injury time. Chelsea were also accompanied by good fortune as well, with substitute Bojan Krkic somehow heading over with the goal at his mercy.
Chelsea's organisation and bravery meant they deserved the draw that has built a foundation for them to advance to a second successive final, and they could even have got an away goal themselves, with Barca keeper Victor Valdes making a superb double save from Didier Drogba in the first half and Michael Ballack heading over later on.
Hiddink is too wise and too experienced to send Chelsea out at the Nou Camp with orders to open up. He knew that would have been an open invitation to players of the calibre of Messi to kill his and Chelsea's Champions League ambitions stone dead.
Instead Chelsea set up for a war of attrition, although they did not help their cause with too many aimless long balls in the first half that only succeeding in presenting possession back to Barcelona.
But with each player following Hiddink's tactical orders to the letter, and with Jose Bosingwa clearly told to get even tighter to Messi as the game progressed, it is slight advantage to Chelsea ahead of the second leg.
Barcelona, however, still pose a massive threat and Chelsea's after-match words outlined the scale of the task awaiting them if they are to meet Manchester United or Arsenal in Rome in the final.
The La Liga leaders are such a potent threat that the odds may well be against Chelsea keeping them out at Stamford Bridge. And Barcelona know just a single goal in the return leg will leave Chelsea facing a massive task, although they face handicaps of their own with influential defender Carles Puyol suspended and Rafael Marquez out after injuring his knee.
Eto'o delivered a timely warning to Chelsea and made a telling point when he said: "They won't be able to play like they did today, just waiting on everything in their own half. Drawing at home is not a bad thing for the team. Playing away in the return leg just means we have to score that away goal that will settle us."
Chelsea's advantage is a slender one, but in Hiddink they have the coach for all occasions, a man with the tactical flexibility to meet the different demands they will face next week.
They will still require all his expertise and their own vast reserves of character to make that last leap to another final and a tilt at redemption following the defeat on penalties against Manchester United in Moscow.