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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chelsea Shock the Spaniards

The Cheers of Chelsea Fans Rock West London

Goal Scoring Hero for the Home Side
It was Chelsea’s night at Stamford Bridge as they put on a world class display of defensive discipline and attacking creativity and organization to defeat Spanish giants FC Barcelona in London. The home side had a stroke of luck about them, to quote Chelsea fan Tyler Whitford, “The post has been a brilliant signing for us this season.” It really should have been 2-2 or 2-3 as both teams made plenty of good attacks, the visitors hitting the crossbar in the first half and then the post in the closing moments of the match but Chelsea continued their dream revival under Roberto Di Matteo and can now go to Spain with a narrow one goal advantage. 

Chelsea’s defensive organization was clear from the first whistle. Barcelona were immediately on the attack but did not sacrifice their possessive style of play to chase the away goal and the first half was very much in favor of the visitors, who passed circles around Chelsea. In the 8th minute, Alexis Sanchez had the closest chance at goal for Barcelona in the first half, rattling the crossbar after he chipped Cech. The ball fell to the feet of Chelsea players and the home stadium was able to let out a collective sigh of relief, but Barcelona were not about to give them a break. Ivanovic picked out center back Gary Cahill with a long throw into the Barcelona box, taking advantage of the height difference between the two sides. Cahill got caught wrong-footed and was unable to put the ball into the back of the net despite being about two feet away from the opening of the goal.
Chelsea began to find their feet and were able to work the ball around the pitch well, knowing that possession was the key for them if they wished to hold off attacks from Messi and the rest of the Barcelona strike force. The Londoners transitions on the attack and defense were textbook perfect, not at all reflective of the side who nearly failed to make it out of the group stage in the same competition before the New Year while under the control of Villas-Boas. By the half hour mark, the possession was still in favor of the visitors but the home side were mounting a surprising amount of attacks in response. The scoreline was still at 0-0 thanks to some good saves from the goalkeepers and both fans were in full, passionate song. In the 33rd minute the Chelsea defense seemed to be lulled to sleep by the slow passing game from both sides and Dani Alves was nearly able to get on the end of a chip over the Chelsea defensive line but Ashley Cole was on his toes and cut the Brazilian off and cleared the threat behind the goal for a corner kick. Cole was again the hero for Chelsea when he made a clearance off of the goaline in the 42nd minute as Chelsea found themselves outnumbered in the box by the Barcelona attack.
In the closing seconds of the first half, Lionel Messi made an uncharacteristic mistake, creating a turnover that would prove costly. On the stroke of halftime, Chelsea legend Didier Drogba found the back of the net after Ramirez and the Chelsea midfield were able to take advantage of the turnover created by Messi. The Barcelona defensive unit was unable to regroup as they found themselves suddenly defending and Drogba was left unmarked at the far post. The Ivory Coast striker made no mistake and slammed the ball home, saluting the Chelsea fans in celebration as their cheers rumbled through West London.
The second half opened with a slower pace than the first. Barcelona were looking to settle into their predictable passing rhythm to try and penetrate the organized back line of Chelsea. Messi got a good look at the goal but his effort was blocked by John Terry. Barcelona were quick to get the ball back and began to toy with the defensive players of the home side. Some individual skill from Adriano landed the defensive midfielder in front of the Chelsea goal but his shot was saved with a lovely swan dive and strong wrists from Petr Cech. The Catalan side continued to press the Chelsea goal, forcing some defending from Chelsea but they were able to deal with the threats on their goal without losing their organized flat back four.
Gary Cahill was accused of handling the ball inside the box by Barcelona players, but the referee saw the play as ball-to-hand rather than hand-to-ball and the offense went uncalled. Video replay showed that the ball did indeed make contact with Cahill’s extended arm but the English center back didn’t appear to intend to touch the ball as he defended it from Sanchez. Mikel was less fortunate when his hand made contact with the ball but Messi was unable to get his shot over the wall. Ramirez was shown the first yellow of the match in the 68th minute when he took Messi down clumsily from behind at the edge of the box. Xavi went for power over placement and the free kick went well over the bar with pace to spare. Two minutes later, Pedro saw yellow for his late challenge on Cole. Chelsea also failed to put their dead ball into the back of the net.
As Barcelona became frustrated looking for a goal and Chelsea became agitated trying to keep the Catalonians at bay, the match began to get chippy. Tactical fouls began to pour in from the midfield and the match soon lost its rhythm which, in the second half, was mostly in favor of Barcelona. The visitors continued to press Chelsea, looking for that valuable away goal but the clock ticked on. In between the Spanish side’s attacks, the Chelsea offense had a few opportunities to ease the pressure on their defense but for the most part, it was all hands on deck for the Londoners as they defended their 0-1 lead, including goal scorer Didier Drogba, who saw yellow in the 86th minute. In the closing moments of the game, Chelsea and Barcelona fans alike were on the edge of their seats, biting their nails and praying to whatever deities they preferred. Barcelona almost went level in the last minute of stoppage time when Barcelona’s final effort on goal rolled past the arms of Cech and looked bound for goal but bounced off of the post and the follow-up shot was shot well over the crossbar.
The London side, after a nightmarish start to their season under Andre Villas-Boas, has turned the tables in their favor. They go into the last fixture of their semi-final draw with a 1-0 lead over Club World Cup Champions and the defenders of the UEFA Champions League and have an arguable advantage, as any goals that they score away from home will be worth more than the ones that Barcelona put in the back of their own net if the fixtures end in a draw. Barcelona will hope to have their form back when they face off against Real Madrid on Saturday and will hopefully be better prepared to face the English side when they pay the Spaniards a visit in Catalonia. 

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