Only one statistic matters for Chelsea: One chance, one goal
At Stamford Bridge
Chelsea fans taunted their Barcelona counterparts with chants of “Jose Mourinho” as they made their way out of Stamford Bridge only 90 minutes away from the Champions League final.
This added insult to the injuries felt by those clad in Catalan colours, who cheered the sight of the defeated Mourinho as images from Real Madrid’s loss against Bayern Munich in the other semi-final flashed on to big screens before kick-off.
Barcelona’s long game was to face Mourinho in the final in Munich next month – and inflict painful defeat on the man who has been a past nemesis. But Chelsea threw those plans into doubt.
Not only do Mourinho’s Real now face a fight to reach their destination, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is in a similarly hazardous position after Didier Drogba gave Chelsea a 1-0 lead to take to the Nou Camp on Tuesday.
Thumbs-up: Didier Drogba scored the only goal as Chelsea defeated Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Picture: Getty
For all the mentions of Mourinho, this was a night of triumph for Chelsea’s caretaker manager Roberto di Matteo - complete with a nod to the past in their resilience, determination, discipline and downright defiance of the odds.
If Mourinho had presided over this performance rather than Di Matteo, it would no doubt have been lauded as a defensive masterclass and a result fashioned around meticulous preparation.
Barcelona enjoyed a 72% share of possession. Chelsea’s Juan Mata received the ball nine times in his 76 minutes on the pitch compared with Xavi’s 133 times in 87 minutes. Barcelona had 24 attempts on goal and Chelsea had only one shot on target throughout a long evening of attrition.
And for all the small details and fine margins that will always shape games at this stage of the Champions League, this was the only statistic that mattered. One shot. One goal. Now there may be one last tilt at glory in a tournament that has made a habit of inflicting pain on this particular Chelsea side.
Guardiola may be a purist with Barcelona’s principles in his DNA but he is also a realist as he swept aside statistical analysis to state: “The game is about putting the football in the goal. It is the most difficult thing in the game.”
Chelsea took their one chance, providing the platform for the possibility of reaching a second Champions League final after the return in Barcelona.
Guardiola insists Chelsea are now favourites and statistically - that word again - they are, because they hold an advantage and have not conceded an away goal. Barcelona, however, will still have real confidence that this defeat will be a passable obstacle en route to Munich.
The easy option is to suggest Chelsea simply rode their luck, hung on and will meet the full force of European football’s artists in the Nou Camp. Some of this is true but any side that beats Barcelona should not see their achievement downgraded. Plenty have tried and failed - many miserably.
Guardiola was swift to point out that the second game is no easy task for Barcelona. He hinted at a greater sense of adventure and risk-taking, words that may just encourage Chelsea as they know the value of an away goal in Spain.
Chelsea will have to produce all they did at Stamford Bridge and more besides – but at least they travel to Catalonia with a precious lead to protect, presumably in the same manner they did on Wednesday.
Of course Chelsea enjoyed good fortune as Alexis Sanchez hit the bar early on and Pedro struck the base of a post in the closing seconds. Former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas also wasted a perfect opportunity to mark his return to London with a goal and saw another shot cleared off the line by Ashley Cole.
These are facts of life when facing Barcelona. They will dominate possession, create chances and exert physical and mental stress on you with such sustained force that the chances are you will break.
At these pressure points, as Chelsea demonstrated, the key is not to panic, not to make that vital mistake – then take the opportunity when it presents itself.
Chelsea did this, which makes it such a victory to be cherished. No-one should underestimate a win against Barcelona by any side and certainly not one in a Champions League semi-final.
Di Matteo demanded two “perfect” performances to reach the final. This was not perfect but it contained enough of the old Chelsea steel to get the job done.
And while the smart money remains on Barcelona to win through, Chelsea showed they have a template that will serve them well when the sides meet again. They also have a result that will give them genuine hope of getting through.
Di Matteo acknowledged that Barcelona present a unique challenge with their tiki-taka passing game and the world-class talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. He agreed they needed to be patient, disciplined and clinical in all parts of the pitch.
Chelsea also had their individual heroes, especially in defence. Goalkeeper Petr Cech was equal to all Barcelona’s best efforts, Ashley Cole and John Terry were simply outstanding, while Gary Cahill can take his self-belief and confidence to a new level when he reflects on the maturity of his performance.
In midfield, once again proving he is a bargain among the more expensive pieces, Chelsea found a stabilising influence in the ever-reliable Ramires. The Brazilian is moving away from his status as an unsung hero, rightly winning the plaudits of Stamford Bridge after doing so much more than set up Drogba’s winner.
And then there is Drogba himself. Part-drama queen – some of his theatrics bordered on high farce – and part attacking monster, ready and willing to rough up any defence. Yes, he embarrassed himself and irritated Barcelona with the trademark amateur dramatics, but he is still a force to be reckoned with and justified Di Matteo’s key decision to prefer him to Fernando Torres.
Di Matteo can also take huge credit. He got his tactics and choices spot on, his game plan backed by the organisation, especially in defence, that fashioned this win. Chelsea now need to do it all again on Tuesday – but suddenly the weight of pressure has switched to Barcelona.