THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

24 April ~ Few would deny that Chelsea are underdogs going into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona this evening, notwithstanding their narrow lead. The last time they went into a match against such clear favourites was back in 2000, when they faced the same opposition in the Champions League quarter-finals. Gianluca Vialli's men did not advance to the next round then and it is highly likely they will be put out again tonight. But in football, you never know. On the way to Stamford Bridge for the quarter-final 12 years ago, my dad told me not to worry about the result. Chelsea were going to lose, so I should just to enjoy the spectacle of football the Spanish opposition would provide.

It was a fantastic nothing-to-lose mindset to begin the match with. Perhaps Vialli gave a similar pre-match talk to his players. How else could you explain the sheer audacity of what was to come in the next 45 minutes?

At half-time, the Blues had an unthinkable 3-0 lead, after two goals from Tore Andre Flo and a stunning free-kick from Gianfranco Zola. Inevitably, Barcelona turned it around in the second half and second leg. Chelsea were very close to hanging on before eventually losing 6-4 on aggregate.

I fully expect my dad to give me the same advice this evening. However much I want to buy into this sensible attitude, I cannot quite muster it this time. If the Chelsea team of 12 years ago, appearing in their first Champions League campaign, can come so close – they were still leading on aggregate with ten minutes to go in the second leg – why can this side not hold onto the lead they won at Samford Bridge last week?

They have seen better days, but this Chelsea team is full of experienced players who are used to the big occasion. They have featured in each of the last nine Champions League competitions and are making their sixth semi-final appearance this season. Although Chelsea have never won the tournament, they have come very close and are a truly established team in Europe. Barcelona will not be underestimating their task. They have faced Chelsea in eight closely-fought matches since 2000 and will see Chelsea as a true competitor.

I'm sure many supporters, like me, will try to go into the match with a nothing-to-lose attitude, but it won't be as easy to expect as little as we did 12 years ago. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but there is a nagging doubt to my self-defeatism and a very small trace of belief. William Turvill

Comments (9)
Comment by Spadams96 2012-04-24 13:52:05

Barcelona have it all to do tonight because they didn't get an away goal last Wednesday.

The longer Chelsea can keep Barcelona out, the more nervy and desperate they'll become.

Even if they race into a 2-0 lead, in the back of their minds they'll still know that one slip would put Chelsea through.

The only way they can turn the tie completely in their favour is to hammer in a lot of goals, something they certainly haven't looked like doing in their last 2 games.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2012-04-24 15:26:44

Like all fair-minded football fans with a genuine love of the game, I'll be rooting for an Abramovich win tonight. I really hope he gets through against Barcelona. And I hope he then goes on and win the Champions League Final too.

This whole "I-must-have-the-Champions-League" thing, it's dragged on for long enough and basically I'm fed up with it. It's got to the stage now where I wish everyone would just step aside and give Abramovich what he wants. He's not going to stop splurging the money till he finally gets his paws on the sodding thing, is he? So let's get it over and done with, right now.

Just give Abramovich the Champions League, then he'll be happy - and hopefully he'll high-tail it back to wherever he came from and get out of English football for good.

Comment by jameswba 2012-04-25 07:09:53

Never thought I'd say this, and maybe it's because of the ex-Albion manager in the dug-out and the knowledge that Terry won't be playing in the final, but full credit to them. It was a brilliantly executed ugly-beautiful performance and the first goal was simply exceptional.

Don't wish to analyse Barcelona - there'll be plenty doing so to the point of tedium - but why do they only ever shoot as a desperate last resort, when all passing and dribbling options have been exhausted, rather than when there is actually an opportunity?

Comment by FCKarl 2012-04-25 08:15:22

A totally abysmal game. Other than the suspense. Chelsea go through despite having played cowardly at Stamford Bridge a week ago and defending on their home ground! That?? is what you want to see in a Cup Final, the biggest club trophy for Europe? Oh, and where was the red card for Frank Lampard for that scissors tackle of Cesc Fabregas? I'm not going to say that Leonel Messi didn't make a mess of it himself; Messi did. The penalty was legit, but Messi (paid over 15 mio per year) has to at least force Keeper Cech to make a save. Terry once more showed why he's the cock-up that he is. Gads, how a buffoon like Terry deserves the good life he's been gifted is beyond me. That's a male (not a man) worthy of a captaincy? The Game lost in Camp Nou yesterday evening. We all did. Only the Brazilian who scored for Chelea is worth watching. Didier Drogba? The guy who makes a mockery of every match? (see the first 30 minutes of the Chelsea - Tottenham Spurs tie in Wembley as just another installment) As a fan I am tired of losing 7 or 9 minutes of footballing viewing in every match Drogba plays where this massive man rolls on the ground as if he's just been shot with a Saturday Night Special. Let's face it: We watch this game because we love the sublime skills of Andreas Iniesta, Xavi, Leonel Messi, Sanchez, Fabregas, David Villa, and ones like Dani Alves (when he keeps his temper in check). Nobody pays good money because someone like Banislav Ivanovic is on the pitch. (And there is a reason no Spanish club is wishing to bring Fernando Torres back to Iberia.) With ALL THE MONEY wrapped up in Chelesea's "high pedigree" lineup, and they spent most of a total of 180 minutes of football -- defending. Cowards. All. A very sad result. I blame the FC Barca management. Fatigue is what did Barca in, not "courageous" Chelsea defending. A properly rested FC Barca 11 would have thrashed Chelsea just as they did Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2012-04-25 10:22:51

What an utterly enthralling, captivating barnstormer of a game last night. It had everything and, as far as I could make out, Chelsea scored more goals than Barca over the two legs - including two in the Nou Camp when they only had ten men on the pitch, half of whom knew they wouldn't be playing in the final. Seemed obvious to me which side had more love for the game and more desire to win ...

Comment by Coral 2012-04-25 10:47:46

FCKarl I would say in a nutshell you have described why I have gone towards disliking Barca, but you have put in a load of ranting alongside the key sentence. Anyways the statement "Let's face it: We watch this game because we love the sublime skills of Andreas Iniesta, Xavi, Leonel Messi, Sanchez, Fabregas, David Villa, and ones like Dani Alves (when he keeps his temper in check)." nicely sums up why I am glad Chelsea won out. For me it was a constant marvel how Drogba was always under the ball from Cech and managed to do something with it. It was a marvel in the first leg to watch Cahill and Terry deal with Barcelona and the midfield dropping and making decent takles. It was another marvel watching a ten man side with no centre backs stopping the one team you would expect to fully exploit such a situation.

The reason I love football is the almost endless ways in which a team can play a game and the interest when the two styles contrast. In my own opinion I find watching Barcelona terribly dull, but I don't think that no one else should enjoy it.

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2012-04-25 12:32:53

I remember when Wimbledon used to get results like Chelsea did last night and were constantly berated and criticised.
Chelsea do it and they are brilliant.

Comment by Spadams96 2012-04-25 13:25:23

As a Liverpool fan, I have learned painfully over the last 20 years that you can't rely on other teams to do your dirty work for you!

Fair do's to Chelsea, I wanted them to lose but they won. Luck, style and all that other jazz won't matter a bit to their fans today.

As for Barcelona, it'll be intriguing to see where they go from here. I don't recall, but I'm sure they must've been written off after Inter knocked them out 2 years ago as well.

Comment by jameswba 2012-04-25 13:30:00

jertzeeAFCW, I well remember reading on the morning of the Wimbledon-Liverpool Cup Final in '88 that 'Liverpool have to win this for the game of football'. Partly because of that (I'm always up for backing the team that's not just the underdog but is also despised by the pompous, self-appointed purists of the press), I was rooting for Wimledon in the afternoon, as much as I've ever rooted for a neutral side. And Wimbledon were magnificent that day. I say that far far less reluctantly than I say that Chelsea were brilliant last night.

Sometimes, you get the feeling these purists would like to change the game so that the side that fits their entirely subjective view of 'how it should be played' always wins'. If they had their way, it wouldn't be so bad for WBA. We'd have a better record against Stoke, for one thing.

But it wouldn't be football anymore.

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