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Chelsea
Posted by Phil Lythell on 04/22/2012

The last week of following Chelsea has been like stepping into a time machine. The resolve and resilience displayed in the matches against Barcelona and Arsenal has borne more than a passing resemblance to the character of those sides sent on to the field by Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink.

The 1-0 win over the reigning European Champions was as familiar as it was unexpected though the build up to the match was strange for such a huge fixture in that there were very few nerves among Chelsea fans around the stadium. Having been universally written off and with nothing to lose, most were just hoping for a good effort and to still be in the tie going into the second leg; a draw would have been gladly accepted prior to kick-off.

The match may have followed the pattern that we all predicted – Barca dominating possession and Chelsea camped around the edge of the penalty box – but with one unforeseen detail: the lack of cutting edge from Pep Guardiola’s team. Quite how Cesc Fabregas did not get on the scoresheet is beyond me while Alexis Sanchez could quite easily have netted twice. But while gilt-edged chances were missed – the loveable Sergio Busquets even firing over an open goal in injury-time – the most telling eventuality is that none of those openings fell to Lionel Messi.

With his supernatural abilities well known to those inside Stamford Bridge, the little magician drew a gasp from the crowd every time he was on the ball but he was reduced to shooting from distance and was crowded out each time by stoic defending from the men in blue. Had Messi found himself in the same areas as Fabregas and Sanchez, there is no doubt that the net would have bulged on at least one occasion.

However, the credit for restricting the world’s best footballer to a role on the periphery of the game has to go to the incredible display of positional discipline from the home side, the foundation of Roberto Di Matteo’s gameplan and a nod to previous years under former regimes. Gary Cahill truly came of age as a Chelsea player with an almost flawless performance while John Terry and Ashley Cole showed the very best of their qualities in repelling everything thrown at them. In front of the back four, John Obi Mikel was resolute, Raul Meireles terrier-like and Frank Lampard a picture of composure whether on or off the ball. Indeed, Lampard’s dispossession of Messi and his inch-perfect pass to Ramires was the key to the match-winning goal.

That strike from Didier Drogba may have ultimately been the crucial difference between the sides after ninety plus minutes but it was only one of the key contributions from the big man. He disrupted Barcelona’s rhythm all night whether he was winning long balls or milking the moment after every challenge from an opposition player, proving once again that there is no better centre forward in world football when he is at the top of his game. Carles Puyol is as indomitable a defender that there is in the game but he was totally outmuscled by Drogba every time the two contested for the ball while Javier Mascherano was absolutely pulverised when he ventured into the striker’s path. His ability to win and then hold possession to relieve the pressure on an exhausted defence was vital to the result and let’s pray that he gets over his knee injury to start at Camp Nou in the return leg.

Drogba’s intimidating physicality is totally at odds with his propensity to hit the deck at the merest touch and to stay there as if picked off by a sniper rifle. Naturally it has drawn much criticism and usually I would be among the first in the queue. This time, however, I have nothing but praise for his actions. Drogba’s theatrics were not designed to earn yellow cards for the opposition but merely to give the defence and midfield a breather between waves of attack. His antics will have been greatly appreciated by those playing behind him. Secondly – and I realise this is as subjective as it gets – the rules of ethics are suspended against Barcelona. Chelsea have been on the wrong end of so much gamesmanship form the Catalans in previous encounters that, quite frankly, they got what they deserved. Even the most anti-Drogba observer must have had a wry smile on their face at the sight of the most odious cheat of them all, Sergio Busquets, accusing the Ivorian of diving. People say that if you play Barcelona at their own game you can only lose but Drogba’s “professionalism” highlighted that there is a caveat to that particular pearl of wisdom.

In many aspects this meeting very much mirrored the last one between the two clubs in 2009 though for a few crucial differences. The bounce of the ball this time favoured the Blues and the referee - while not awarding any penalties – seemed more disposed to whistle in defence of Drogba than Tom Henning Ovrebo did three years ago. Yet the result could well have been the same except instead of Andres Iniesta firing the ball into the roof of the net, Thiago Alcantara hit a post with his injury time effort and the follow up was blazed over. Was it destiny or merely delaying the inevitable? Either way, the jigging in the stands to One Step Beyond at the final whistle felt like a dance of redemption.

Following the exertions of Wednesday night, Saturday’s trip to Arsenal looked like another daunting challenge but once again the Blues performed above expectations. The defence was rock solid and had the front three not had such a poor game a valuable three points might well have been the reward for Roberto Di Matteo and his team rather than just one. Daniel Sturridge never quite got into the game while Fernando Torres scurried around but to little effect. However, Salomon Kalou, as always, frustrated the most. If his play on the ball was half as good as his movement without it then he would be one of the most prized footballers around. Unfortunately, his appalling decision making and dreadful execution in key areas means he is destined to bear the brunt of criticism of the crowd more often than their acclaim.

Terry and Cahill were magnificent at the back once again but a special mention has to go to Ryan Bertrand. The left back kept Theo Walcott quiet all afternoon and was always available on the overlap in attacking situations. His game is cut from the same cloth as Ashley Cole’s and it is encouraging to see a player capable of stepping into the England international’s shoes both in the short and long term. If only the same could be said of Jose Bosingwa.

Together with the 5-1 demolition of Tottenham at Wembley, it has been a very satisfying seven days for Chelsea Football Club but there is no time to rest on any laurels. With the faint glow of a Champions League final on the horizon, Tuesday’s match at Camp Nou will be fraught to say the least and I don’t think I’m being too defeatist in saying that Chelsea are still firm outsiders to make it to Munich. Tottenham’s defeat to QPR has been a fillip in the pursuit of a fourth place finish in the Premier League but we face their conquerors next weekend in what is bound to be a contentious affair in light of the incident between Terry and Anton Ferdinand in the first meeting this season at Loftus Road. Meanwhile, Newcastle’s string of victories has seen them pull four points clear of the Blues so a win over the Magpies a week on Wednesday is a must.

The big matches are coming thick and fast for Chelsea but so far so good. Another positive result on Tuesday night and the impossible might just become a reality

You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell

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Comments

Posted by Daniel on 04/22/2012

Once again Chelsea have little to lose against Barca on Tuesday as most expect us to be easily thrashed. I'm actually looking forward to the game and if we can keep our cool I can see Chelsea getting a result to further annoy the Barca fans and so called "neutrals"

Posted by mogaji olawale on 04/22/2012

Up chelsea for life.chelsea 1 barcelona 2

Posted by Gabriel emmanuel on 04/22/2012

Up chelsea.i pray to God that you progress to the final of the champions league and then win the cup for abramovich and chelsea fans all over the world.

Posted by Jerry on 04/23/2012

I keep my mouth shut till tuesday night but i'll say one thing about sturridge, he's worse than ever. why doesnt he ever ever pass the ball and engage in more team play? i hope rdm doesnt field him for tuesday's match.

Posted by aLVin9800 on 04/23/2012

I was overwhelmed Chelsea's ability to win but make no mistake about it, it was pure guts and luck that grind out the result, indeed it was more luck, as Drogba himself conceded.

In fact, the job in Nou Camp will be more daunting with a slender margin of a single goal. Chelsea was negative when they scored and personally, I thought RDM made a tactical error by not pushing for a second goal when Barcelona was piling up the attack with their last line of defense 30 yards up the pitch and counter attack was the viable option with pace. If Torres would have come on instead of Kalou, Torres's pace could have beaten Puyol and company setting up for Drogba to score.

Now its water over Stamford Bridge and having watched the Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Chelsea remains a very cold outsider as this is Barcelona's last chance to win a silverware. They will come out fighting and despite Chelsea camping eleven men behind goal, they will still score! Hence, best of luck again.

Posted by Jon the Yank on 04/23/2012

Amazing game vs. Basuralona - I know i'm not the only one to say it. Hopefully Drogba will be fit to play some part of the game. Chelsea have shown we have what it takes to frustrate Barca - w/ our impressive record the last 3 games played against them. But at the Nou Camp, we'll need as much help as possible w/ the wider pitch, inclusion of Pique to their back line, and everything to play for after losing out on La Liga to R. Madrid this past weekend. I'll heap praise on RDM for resting 8 starters against Arsenal and still managing a draw. Against Barca, I would continue the same game plan adopted in England. A tie is fine for us, let them exhaust themselves out - we'll catch them on the counter-attack. They can't keep up with Ramires, can't outmuscle Drogba, and can't physically compete with J.T., Cahill, Ivanovic, etc. on corners. Key point for this game is intensity, composure, and DISCIPLINE. We've held a 0-0 score last time we were there and i don't see why we can't repeat again!

Posted by Yomi on 04/23/2012

I love ur blog. But i blv against all odds Chelsea will prove all the critics wrong. Am predicting a score draw.Chelsea 4 life!!!

Posted by Shanawaz on 04/23/2012

Totally agree with each thing said on this blog

Posted by Avishek Ghosh on 04/23/2012

Not the kind of article I was expecting from a Chelsea Correspondent. Very weak in expressing a strong feeling of support to the Team.
Chelsea had a resilient defence in the match. For people who say Chelsea were fortunate to keep a clean sheet I would just say "Fortune favours the brave" and Chelsea were brave that night.

Posted by 'dami on 04/23/2012

Against barca, one can only hope for the best.
It seems barca's invisibility is now visible, more so puyol despite his experience, is a big suspect.
Lastly, with kalou{HIGEST GÒALS LOOSER IN EPL} and Malouda, i wasnt suprised at their wastefulness and 100% poor final passes, but daniel sturidge's ANTI-CHELSEA DISPLAY needs to be checkmated

Posted by Raza on 04/23/2012

I'm an Arsenal fan, and I've been simply amazed by RDM's managerial ability and the tenacity shown by a relatively small squad; epitomized none better by JT for playing 3 games in 6 days with cracked ribs. Amazing stuff. We all thought that we would be playing a fatigued Chelsea side after Barca, but kudos to RDM's rotation for still keeping Chelsea in the top 4 race; with Toon's fixtures and Spurs' implosion, it is likely they will succeed. Outsiders Chelsea may be for Tuesday, but the grit and brilliance shown in recent days makes me believe they could well make it to Munich. One more thing: if Essien is fit, he should definitely be starting vs Barca along with Mikel and Meireles to give more steel in midfield, with Lamps and Ramires on the sides. And I loved the point about Barca deserving a response of gamesmanship after their own history in this field; totally agree! Awaiting a cracker of a match tomorrow.

Posted by paul hika on 04/23/2012

yes of course i will add to Shanawaz comment and actually give it a tick with no end.I am a Chelsea Fc from Kenya (a country in Eastern Africa)and I hope we will do a repetition of 2009's match against Barca on the same pitch where we will be playing Tuesday 24th.In the other hand,we can even add to them lot of pressure and maybe we try and get a 1 goal lead before the halftime.Also don't forget that Messi has never scored against Chelsea under his heroic career.To me this is a very very good record.Last but not the least is thanking the Chelsea solid defense and urge them to maintain their run and good work.

Posted by obinna on 04/23/2012

I pray drogba is fit for the return leg in Nou Camp, if not its going to be a very daunting task for chelsea to get through to the final. However, if he is fit, I see him getting that vital away goal that will take chelsea to the final.

Posted by ulunma on 04/23/2012

This was luck all round with discipline. Let them replicate that on tuesday and they will be through to the finals. Up chelsea.

Posted by Abhay on 04/23/2012

I agree that without DROGBA, it will be very difficult to save the match.
Only he can provide those theatrics to give time to recover not only for the defense but also for entire team playing behind him.
moreover, the devil of 2009 is gone. all chelsea fans rue two things in life - one slip in 2008 and refereeing standards in 2009.
i hope we prove the idiom: third time lucky

Posted by Ameen Olalekan on 04/23/2012

RDM should try formation 4-3-2-1 again which i suggest to goes thus: Cech(post) Ivanovic(RB)TERRY/CAHILL A.Cole(LB),MIKEL/ESSIEN/LAMPARD,ramires(LF)/torres(RF), Drogba.I think mata/kalou and yellow carded meireless shouldd hold on 4 second half.If uefa did not issue red card to cech bearin what happened to jens lehman best season in 2006 CL in mind.i fink we can do it.also basketball pattern shd b adopted as well as its a big stadium.

Posted by jdc-boston-usa on 04/23/2012

Dear Phil,
Your blog is consistently balanced and a pleasure to read. Your analysis of Drogba's "antics" on the field never occurred to me while I was watching the game but I suspect you're right. In any event, I just wanted to say thanks from an expat (who hasn't been to the Shed end since 1980) for providing analytical reports with substance that balance out the headlines on the Soccernet main page (as now, "Blanc on Chelsea's radar", which I knew must have been written by the inimitable Harry Harris even before I opened the page, and where the vast majority of his bylines appear to come from his imagination ["...a source close to... reports]).

Posted by Adewumi Adedeji on 04/23/2012

My only problem now is Drogba i pray he's fit because he is the only man who can make the difference.I think essien is needed in this titanic 2nd leg clash and the rest of the players should give their all in the game as this might just be their last chance.But all the same UP Chelsea

Posted by CTS on 04/23/2012

Can't wait for this tuesday return leg at Nou Camp!!!
It will be tough but i believe Chelsea has the experience, tactical acumen and discipline to get through this and make the Final.
Hope Drogba will shake off his injury to make the starting line up to, as how Terry put it, "put fear into Barca" once more.
If Drogba unable to make it, RDM can still opt for a lone central striker with electrifying pace, i think Sturridge will be the choice despite having a poor game against Arsenal. He would be useful to chase down long ball at Barca final third and exploit their defence which expect to push high up the pitch.
Anyway, as long as Chelsea maintain current team spirit, there is nothing to fear, bring on Mourinho or Bayern in the final!!!

Posted by Kareemon on 04/23/2012

I will be counting on the fact that while Chelsea rested some 8 players against Arsenal and played the game at preseason friendly pace, Barcelona only rested 2 of their players against Madrid in what was a very gruelling and intense match.
Our midfield and forwards will definitely be fresher than Barcas, while we'll also have Ivanovic back.
4 consecutive seasons of otherworldly football may have taken its toll on Barca, and i'm hoping Messi, Iniesta and Co finally feel the exhaustion kicking in.
We have as much chance as any to win this game

Up the Chels!

Posted by Varun on 04/24/2012

I was sure that Man Utd had pretty much won the league.. i thought there was no chance Real were gonna beat Barca In Camp Nou.. i thought Chelsea had fluffed all their Champions League hopes after losing 3 - 1 to Napoli.....
There is not much to prove in this match.. Barcelona have achieved near immortality whether they win anything again or not.. Chelsea cannot match Barcelona for flair or pace.. each player in the Barcelona Shirt outshines Chelsea .. No Chelsea fan can argue about any of this.. We know we can only defend because in terms of playing football Barcalona are better... Even if we win that won't dent their credentials in any way..
But if we do win i hope Barcelona Fans don't bloody whine about how they were robbed or how Chelsea played anti football and all that crap.. To win we still had to score a goal in the few chances that we could make.. While you folks playing mesmeric , with all your chances still could not score.. To park the bus you still have to score , and you folks conceded .. Don't Dare take that away from us citing anti-football rubbish.. if you guys are so good then beat us ...

Posted by elahe on 04/24/2012

i love u chelsea :)

Posted by batzul on 04/24/2012

Chelsea win. Go to final win. ole ole ole

Posted by Ch Ch on 04/25/2012

Chelsea's match @ Camp Nou was not only heroic and inspiring but also unbelievable.

The game transcends to life where you should always have hope no matter how insurmountable the task appears.

1. The whole team performed as a unit and though all seemed lost when they were reduced to 10 men, they never gave up hope.

2. Magical Ramires goal

3. Torres has experienced a tough start to his Chelsea career but the Chelsea fans still cheered him on (believing in him) and he has repaid our faith.

4. A prayer has been answered from the heavens

5. Gary Neville makes a great commentator, all props to him.

Cheers mates!

Posted by blue thru & thru on 04/25/2012

All i have to say is,

'We are approaching added time, Iniesta has a shot....but its NOT 2009. ITS OVER!! Chelsea have sweet revenge

Posted by Revol on 05/10/2012

National teams. To be in the national team you must play very well for a club team. The international teams are made up of the best teams from clubs around the world. The World Cup is the best and biggest tournament in the world. If you compare the top 5 national teams Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Uruguay, Portugal with the top 5 club teams Barca, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man United, Bayern (in my opinion these are the top 5 club teams) I would take the top 5 national teams any day of the week.

Posted by Mandon on 05/13/2012

The best international teams are betetr than the best club teams but the smaller club teams are betetr than the smaller international teams like Spain would beat Real Madrid but Aston Villa would beat Belgium

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About
Phil Lythell Phil Lythell is a Chelsea season ticket holder and lifelong Blues supporter stretching back to the sepia-tinted days of Kerry Dixon and Pat Nevin. Author of Chelsea-centric blog ShoutyandSpitty.com, Phil has spent his entire life living within a 20 minute walk of Stamford Bridge which has cost him a fortune but has also kept him from those interminable queues outside Fulham Broadway Station giving him more time in the pub to discuss the latest glorious/calamitous/insipid match.

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