Barcelona v Chelsea: Barca artists confounded by Chelsea bulls

29 April 2009 07:03
Only mark this one up for the bulls. Chelsea emerged from this extraordinary, seething arena not even bloodied and definitely unbowed.

Instead, it was Barcelona who were left harrumphing about being gored and it was their fans who were left screaming their anger time and again at supposed rough stuff. Yet do not buy into the beauty and the beast stuff; Guus Hiddink's masterclass in stifling and frustrating might not have been the prettiest but it was a footballing art in its own right, too.

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The world beyond the King's Road may have been willing Barcelona to be as thrilling as the publicity had promised because there is nothing football enjoys more than seeing a team come along to tick all the boxes of beauty and brilliance, of steel and silver which have to be demanded in the greatest sides.

Only the bulls were not having it. They had read all the love letters to Barca and were suitably unimpressed. In the partisan eyes of 90,000, Chelsea were ugly, thrusting their horns in Lionel Messi and his fellow toreadors to the point where, by the end, the little Argentine appeared to have lost all his swagger and was misplacing passes for fun.

To neutral eyes, though, it simply looked as if, as usual, Hiddink had got it right with a clever game-plan, excellently executed. His modus operandi was to attempt to cut off the dazzling front three's supply at its midfield source, so John Obi Mikel was stationed on Xavi and Michael Ballack was posted deep, too, to marshal the threat of the other main purveyor of bullets, Andres Iniesta.

Meanwhile, at the other end, the once maligned Florent Malouda was ensuring the magnificent Dani Alves was kept too preoccupied to keep marauding forward. Barca started attacking more down the left because of Malouda's work; no disrespect to Thierry Henry but if it is a choice of two evils, you'd rather be run at by him than by Messi.

Ballack went through Henry; Jose Bosingwa took out Messi in full flight. Then Alex hacked down the Argentine. The crowd screamed for blood yet the more whistling they endured, the stronger the visitors' resolve became. By the middle of the second half, Barca's constant foraging was even beginning to feel just a little desperate and Petr Cech's fantastic left-footed save – it was good to see him back to his best – from Samuel Eto'o seemed to sum up their resistance.

What the old burghers of Uefa made of Chelsea's dogged approach would have been a delight to see. There is no doubt that Michel Platini and his buddies will be desperate that the great entertainers reach next month's showdown in Rome, rather than have to endure another parochial Premier League affair.

So when Rafael Marquez almost blew it with a dismal back pass to his keeper which Didier Drogba just failed to capitalise upon, you could almost imagine them spluttering into their Bollinger.

Chelsea were streetwise; Barca, not for the first time, appeared to feel the pressure of delivery. When your motto is "Mes Que Un Club", and it is religiously spelt out in the stadium in giant lettering, then you have a hell of a lot to live up to. More than a club? FC Barcelona really believe that.

And it is not just in Barcelona that they want to see another team for the ages created. They do not necessarily have to be ultimate winners, either, just as we remember the Brazil of 1982 with every bit of fondness as the Brazil of 1970. Even the mighty Magyars of 1954 and Rinus Michels' 1974 Dutch masters never won the World Cup their magic demanded.

It had not seemed unreasonable this season to sense that, in club terms, Guardiola's mob might have all the necessary requisites to make us think of them in the same light as Johan Cruyff's Barcelona of the Nineties, or the Milan of Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello or Sixties Real Madrid.

Not last night, though. Yes, they were occasionally wonderful to behold and some of their attacking had a feel of fantasy about it, but ultimately they resembled a dazzling firework gradually fizzling out, coming to life one last time with Bojan's opportunity, then finally dying a death.

Keeping this lot goalless is some achievement, though. In the first half, Chelsea must have felt like an army of plumbers rushing around trying to plug a series of leaks. When one was filled, someone cascaded through another hole, yet the smartness of Hiddink's tactics constantly seemed to ensure every gap was eventually closed.

The home crowd had long gone home grumpily as the Chelsea fans sang their anthem outside the Nou Camp but one just hoped the singing wasn't too premature. For stopping Barca scoring on one occasion is an achievement but if Guardiola's side truly are as good as many still feel they could be, to do it twice might feel historic.


Source: Telegraph