Friday, May 8, 2009
It was a good plan, and despite the cries of "Anti-Fútból" from certain quarters, it really was the only plan. Against Barça, Real Madrid abandoned the counter-attacking game which served them so well since Spurs legend Juande Ramos took charge, and were duly thumped. Even with home advantage, Chelsea were never going to fall into that trap. At the Camp Nou, Chelsea conceeded three chances to Barcelona and very nearly nicked a goal on the counter-attack from Didier Drogba. On the smaller Stamford Bridge pitch, 800 square metres smaller fact fans, it made sense to continue with the same tactic.
Barça started well, but Essien's early goal conditioned the tie as it heightened Chelsea's resolve to continue with the gameplan. Barça now needed to be very precise in their attacks as any loose passing would be punished by a Chelsea side programmed to find Drogba with as few passes as possible.
The referee had a nightmare and both sides suffered from his ineptitude. Abidal was wrongly sent-off and Chelsea were denied a definite penalty when Piqué handled in the box. The other claims have been debated at length elsewhere on the interweb without a consensus being reached. All I'll say is that if I were a referee I'd think twice before I gave anything to Drogba in the box. That's all I'm saying, you know.
Hiddink replaced Drogba shortly after Abidal's sending-off with Belletti, Barça's hero from the 2006 final. The intention was clear: maintain the result. Football bit him on the arse, though, and Barça scored in a move which featured the only decent cross from Alves and the only intervention from Messi. Iniesta's outside-of-the-foot finish was a work of art.
At the final whistle Chelsea went mental. Was it because of the referee's failure to award the various penalty claims, or was it due to the realization that they missed clear chances to put the result beyond doubt? Who knows? Drogba, who missed chances in both legs seemed particulary peeved. Make of that what you will.