Chelsea vs Barcelona, Champions League semi-finals 1st Leg, Stamford Bridge
Kickoff – 19:45 GMT (00:15 IST), Wednesday, 18th April 2012
The Champions League never ceases to delight. Yesterday, we were witness to quite a mixed game of football. There were occasional flashes of brilliance, but the late drama was great fun to watch.
Bayern Munich have shown how badly they want to be in that final, come next month. Real Madrid were not exactly outplayed, but just that Bayern wanted it a bit more. Bayern’s defence looks really solid, and despite their young age, it looks like we could see this defence hailed all over Europe in the near future. Mario Gomez missed a few opportunities through the game, but he scored when it mattered most to give Bayern a slender going into the second leg at the Bernabeu. Cristiano Ronaldo, looked a bit isolated yesterday, and he was well marshalled all night. Angel di Maria, too looked a bit out of sorts. Questions will be raised as to why Kaka wasn’t bought off the bench. He could have proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Anyways, today’s encounter between Chelsea and Barcelona promises to be another fascinating encounter. It was 3 years ago, that Andres Iniesta scored that injury time screamer to unceremoniously dump the Blues out of the Champions League. What followed was a fracas, as Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba went on a rampage on television, accusing the referee of favouring the Catalans.
3 years is a bloody long time in football though. While Barcelona have built on that win, and become the world’s best club side, Chelsea have stuttered a bit, and are in danger of not qualifying for next years Champions League, unless they win it this year.
Chelsea look a completely different outfit, from, say, a month ago. After losing to West Bromwich Albion in the league, Roman Abrahamovich sacked Andre Villas-Boas, and replaced him with ex-Chelsea player, and assistant manager Roberto di Matteo. The move has worked wonders.
Chelsea secured progress to the final of the FA Cup, beating Bimingham 2-0, and Leicester City 5-2, before mauling Tottenham in the semi-final 5-1. Their league form has been impressive too, as they look to balance their European aspirations as well. Trailing Italian side Napoli 3-1 from the first leg, Chelsea turned on the style, as they beat the Naples club 4-1 in extra time, on an absorbing night of football. They went on to beat Benfica 1-0, and 2-1, to secure a 3-1 aggregate win, despite some nervy moments. Their domestic league form, too has picked up, with wins over Stoke, Aston Villa, and Wigan, as they stay in contention for a top 4 finish.
The men in form at the moment are Didier Drogba, Juan Mata and Ramires. While Juan Mata has been the lone shining star, in a hugely disappointing campaign, Didier Drogba, has been brilliant of late. With talk earlier in the season, that he is on the verge of quitting the Blues, following the departures of Nicolas Anelka and Alex, the Ivory Coast captain put in a fine display against Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
The hardworking Ramires has been given lesser appreciation than he deserves. He has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent players this season, and his link up play from defence to attack has been a positive feature. Frank Lampard, of course, needs no introduction. Despite being on the sidelines, thanks to Villas-Boas’ poor team selection, Lampard has been banging in some vital goals.
Chelsea have some defensive worries, though. David Luiz is out, which means, Gary Cahill, who is inexperienced at this level, comes in. His performances, of late, have been encouraging, though.
Barcelona, have employed a new formation in Europe this season, a 3-4-3. Javier Mascherano and the Spanish duo of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique form the backline. This could be a weak point, should Chelsea decide to employ wing play, on their narrow Stamford Bridge pitch. Dani Alves, is better off as a right winger than a right back. Sergio Busquets is expected to start tonight, ahead of ex Arsenal skipper Francesc Fabregas, along with the dwarfs Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean winger has been a revelation this season, as he took over the mantle of centre-forward, following the injury to David Villa. Lionel Messi, of course, is another individual who doesn’t need an introduction. The Argentine has been in inspired form, scoring a mammoth 63 goals in 55 matches, and assisting a further 25. He is well and truely in the form of his life.
As a neutral, this clash promises to be a belter, and I certainly hope I am not dissapointed.
Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂