Chelsea exhibited resilience and desire to come back from 2-0 down with 10 men to draw 2-2 with Barcelona to book a Champions League final berth.
While captain John Terry's idiocy threatened to scupper hopes of a second European Cup final, his team-mates defended Petr Cech's goal as if it was their mother being threatened by muggers.
Barcelona meanwhile, La Liga and Champions League winners last season, look set to miss out on both trophies.
Here's five things learnt from an exhilarating evening at Camp Nou:
BARCA ARE RELIANT ON MESSI
The arrivals of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas, in addition to La Masia graduates Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and £30m striker David Villa, were supposed to further alleviate the pressure on Lionel Messi. But if Barcelona’s 2008, 2010 and 2012 semi-final eliminations are to clarify, it is that they are reliant on the Argentinian.
Alas Messi has lost form at the worst possible time. And last night, after his early second-half penalty cannoned off the crossbar, he was shot. Petr Cech still had to tip a precise strike from the number 10 onto the post, but Messi was overhitting and underhitting passes as well as running into Chelsea’s impression of a brick wall.
Behind him, Xavi was too pedestrian in his passing, Iniesta toiled again (out of position) and while Dani Alves offered width, he didn’t provide it. Fabregas too looked forlorn after his desperate dive won a penalty while Sanchez appeared to hanker for a wing role. The greatest team ever would never be reliant on one player.
Gary Neville goes all Alan Partridge:
CHELSEA CHEATED VILLAS-BOAS
Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole did wonders for the Bulldog Spirit last night, but they were a level above that. Rather than experience positional lapses and atone with desperate lunges, they were calmness personified, nipping in at the right moments and stressing how invaluable experience is.
So why did they not play like that under Andre Villas-Boas? Chelsea have experienced a resurgence since the Portuguese was sacked in February, but the players played a more significant role in his eight months off the pitch than they did on it. Lampard and Cole were two of the accused, with the former – highly regarded for his selflessness – exposed as a rotten apple.
This Chelsea squad has its limitations, but is nowhere near as bad as some have suggested. Yet the egos under Villas-Boas could still scupper participation in next season’s Champions League, given how unlikely it is the Blues will finish fourth.
DEFENSIVE DISPLAYS > TIKI-TAKA TEDIUM
Derided as “vulgar” and “cowardly” by the crestfallen Catalan press, Chelsea, borrowing Italy’s catenaccio blueprint, were just as fascinating to watch as Internazionale were when they defended their 3-1 advantage at Camp Nou two years ago.
Spanish football preaches that the game should be played one way, when it really shouldn’t. Watching a team protect and defend an advantage is as riveting as it is tense – as well as an education. You could see, in panoramic-like vision, where Barca were letting themselves down as they camped in Chelsea’s third, whereas Tiki-taka is essentially ball-retention boredom. There’s no fun had in watching sideways passes.
And Chelsea actually came from 2-0 behind to draw 2-2. How vulgar, showing such gumption! Tapas restaurants would have been serving sour grapes in Catalonia on Tuesday night.
Messi is crestfallen
BARCA HAVE NO PLAN B
Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. The joke goes Barcelona players would make for terrible Mastermind contestants, but that could apply to the Crystal Maze too, so long do they take in the build-up.
Pep Guardiola has achieved phenomenal success in his four seasons as manager at the Camp Nou, but remains too stubborn for his own good on occasions. Some neutrals prefer to watch Real Madrid to Barca because they don’t overelaborate and actually show directness. And their strengths are their rivals’ weaknesses, because Barcelona don’t have a back-up strategy if a team is successfully containing them.
David Luiz was out for both legs, Gary Cahill had to be substituted due to injury and John Terry was sent off last night. Yet with three Chelsea centre-backs on the sidelines, the hosts only ventured the odd aerial cross despite introducing winger Alves for the concussed Gerard Pique. They made 806 passes to Chelsea’s 183, having 82 per cent of the possession to their visitors’ 18 per cent, but thrice at the last four stage in the last four years such predictability and failure to mix it up has cost them.
Ruud Gullit praised how magnanimous Barcelona were:
CECH LOOKS LIKE THE ‘KEEPER HE PROMISED TO BE
Luck is always present in success, and against the Blaugrana, Chelsea had a Portsmouth 2008 FA Cup vibe going on. Although their goal led a charmed life sporadically throughout the tie, Petr Cech was faultless.
Since he fractured his skull in 2006, he has looked a shadow of the goalkeeper everyone expected him to be. He will always wear that skullcap – and that comfort blanket has at times appeared to restrict his playing ability and self-belief. He has regularly been accused of not catching the ball often enough.
And while Barcelona may be as predictable as a Bruce Forsythe punchline at times, he made a number of solid, crucial stops, culminating in a terrific save onto the post to deny Messi at 2-1. When a rare cross came into his vicinity, he clutched it assuredly rather than punching the ball and gifting possession back to the opposition, gaining welcome respite. The Czech is still only 29, and has the capacity to regain the best goalkeeper in the world berth which was indisputably his between 2005 and 2006.
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