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Champions League: Chelsea knockout Barcelona in an upset for the ages
To suggest that Chelsea pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Champions League history by dismissing Barcelona, would almost be considered an understatement. The Blues move on to their second final in five years, against the winner of the second semi final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
To suggest that Chelsea pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Champions League history by dismissing a heavily favoured Barcelona side, would almost be considered an understatement. Not only did the Blues find a way to knockout the mighty Spanish side while playing the second leg at Camp Nou but they did it playing much of the match with ten men, after captain John Terry was sent off with a straight red card for kneeing Barca striker Alexis Sanchez in the back. The 2-2 outcome kept Barcelona from attempting to become the first side to successfully defend their title as European champions, while Chelsea now moves onto to play in their second Champions League final in five years, against the winner of the second semi final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Right from the opening whistle Barcelona carried the play, as the always do, but Chelsea were prepared for the onslaught. Before the match was five minutes old, in the English side had all ten of their players inside or at the edge of goalkeeper Petr Cech's eighteen yard box. The goal was clear. They would try and defend in their all white kit, in hopes of pulling off the monumental upset. While the Spaniards carried the play, they seemed almost perplexed as to what to do. They are a side that plays a wonderful free flowing style, that is an absolute joy to watch but when they had their space taken away, they had no answer. In fact, during the opening minutes of the second leg, central defender Gerard Pique and goalkeeper Víctor Valdes were the only two players on the pitch not inside or hugging the visitors penalty area. Not exactly the prettiest futbol to watch but a very effective tactic for Roberto Di Matteo's far less talented side.
While Chelsea were forced to remove defender Gary Cahill from the match due to an apparent leg injury at a quarter of an hour, the defending champions would suffer a major blow themselves, when Pique was knocked out cold by his own keeper, only moments after the Cahill substitution. Valdes coming flying from his goal to help clear a ball from Didier Drogba, after a massive clearance from Cech at the other end of the pitch. While he managed to reach the ball before the Ivory Coast nationalist, he nailed his own man in the process sending Pique to the turf. For some reason, the talented defender was allowed to stay on the pitch after clearly being knocked out cold but thankfully he would be removed inside ten minutes. While neither man wanted to leave the pitch in a match of this magnitude, their health must be the first priority.
Thanks to their disciplined defending and a couple of timely saves from their goalkeeper, Chelsea had managed to keep the sheet clean for the opening thirty but the Catalans would finally be rewarded. Defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets would open the scoring at the thirty-five minute mark, finishing a lovely passing play with an easy tap in from just outside the six yard box. They were back on level terms and the Camp Nou erupted.
Moments later, captain John Terry decided to make his teammates life that much harder, by making as selfish a play as you will see on a pitch. Having just given up the opening goal, Terry inexplicably decided to pop striker Sanchez in the back with his knee. Not only was there no need for the foul but Sanchez is well known to hit the turf as if he was taken out by a sniper. Add to that, the fact that he did so in plain view for all to see and his red card was more then warranted. While there are far worse infractions that occur throughout most matches on the on the field of play, for the Blues captain do have done what he did on this stage, is simply inexcusable.
Not surprisingly, after scoring the opening goal and watching Chelsea not only go down to ten men but now being forced to finish the match without their two starting central defenders, Barcelona would widen the gap. Lionel Messi went right at the heart of the Chelsea defence before sending a gorgeous ball to a hard charging Andreas Iniesta, who's side-footed finish slid just past Cech and into the side netting. In eight brief minutes, the Spanish giants had turned Chelsea's one goal lead into a one goal deficit with the half time whistle looming.
With all hope now seemingly lost, the English side were given a ray of hope when midfielder Ramires stunned the entire stadium, including both teams, with his chip shot goal in extra time to put the Blues back in front. The play literally developed from nothing, as Frank Lampard gained possession in the midfield and sent a lovely ball that sprung the Brazilian and he made no mistake, sending a cheeky little chip over an out of position Valdes and into the back of the net. It was a scenario that likely would not have occurred if Pique were still in the match. Obviously, not the first half that one Victor Valdes had envisioned.
After regrouping during the break, Chelsea came out ready to defend and were meticulous in their approach, while receiving some good fortune from the soccer gods. They kept Barcelona to the outside for much of the half but did give up a few quality chances that normally would have cost them. Three minutes in, Drogba was whistled down for taking down former Arsenal standout Cesc Fabregas in the box, giving the home side the chance to draw level once again. Instead of celebrating Messi's fifteenth Champions League goal of the year, everyone was left shaking their heads. The little Argentine rifled his spot kick off the crossbar and suddenly doubt had started to creep in...maybe this would not be their night.
Barcelona kept coming but could not get the quality they were looking for and whatever they did get on target, Cech would simply swallow up. It looked as Sanchez had tied it up after brilliant little run from Messi but the goal was waved off on an offside call. Moments later, the top player in the world would make a slick little move at the edge of the penalty area and unleash a bullet through a maze of Chelsea shirts but saw his blast rattle off the post. Cech appeared to have got the slightest of touches on the ball but it still should have found its way in but simply did not.
Barca had one final chance with a corner at the ninety minute mark and sent everyone forward looking for the equalizer. Chelsea won possession off the set piece and punted the ball out to a wide open and unmarked Fernando Torres. While the former Liverpool star has struggled in his time at Stamford Bridge, he made the most of his opportunity. After galloping from the centre line untouched, he made a quick move past a diving Valdez at the top of the box and then slid the insurance marker into the empty goal. Torres had come on ten minutes earlier for a dead tired Drogba and it was a move that paid huge dividends for Di Matteo and his side. Indeed, the previous eighteen months seem like nothing more then a distant memory when it comes to Mr. Torres.
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