Saturday, October 24, 2020

REWIND: Chelsea conquer the Catalans in UCL semi-final

In the 2011/12 season, Chelsea were struggling in the Premier League as their fight for a spot in the top four seemed to be a losing battle. They knew that, if they wanted to be in the Champions League again the next year, they’d have to win the 11/12 edition.

Barcelona v Chelsea – Second Leg – The Game

The second leg of the UEFA Champions League tie between Barcelona and Chelsea at the Camp Nou will go down in history for a number of reasons – not least Gary Neville’s invention of the ‘goalgasm’.

The sides came into the second leg with the aggregate score at 1-0 to the visitors courtesy of a Didier Drogba strike on the stroke of half-time at Stamford Bridge a week earlier.

Barcelona were clearly in the mood to play from the get go. Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi both went close for the hosts early on and, eventually, they got their breakthrough courtesy of a relatively unlikely source.

Barcelona worked it well down the left, got the ball across the box and Sergio Busquets was there to turn it home to draw the Catalan side level on aggregate.

Then, just a few minutes later, Alexis Sanchez went down at the edge of the area after a coming together off the ball with John Terry. The referee stopped the game and issued the Chelsea skipper a red card, giving Chelsea a mountain to climb.

Replays showed Terry had given Sanchez a sly knee in the back and, unfortunately for him, the referee had seen it. He’d miss the final if Chelsea were to get there.

Minutes later, Lionel Messi slipped the ball through to Andres Iniesta in the area and the mercurial Spaniard made no mistakes in beating Petr Cech to make it 2-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate.

From that point onward, it looked like an impossible job for Chelsea as their ten men hung on, just trying to keep a lid on an incredibly potent Barcelona attack.

Right on the stroke of half time, Chelsea’s challenge looked a lot less arduous as the Brazilian midfielder Ramires sublimely lobbed the keeper to put Chelsea back in the driving seat on away goals, but they still had a lot to do in the second half.

The second period started horrendously for Chelsea as Barcelona were awarded a penalty when Didier Drogba brought down former Arsenal man Cesc Fabregas in the area.

Lionel Messi stepped up to take it, jogged towards the ball and slammed his effort off the bar. One of those rare occasions where some blame can most definitely be laid upon the great man’s shoulders.

The rest of the second half so Barcelona sending wave after wave of attack towards the Chelsea goal, knowing that one goal would likely be enough to send them through to the final.

Sanchez went close on a couple of occasions, as did Iniesta and Busquets.

All the way through the second half, there were odd instances wherein Chelsea would threaten on the counter. A breakaway move as Barcelona pushed seemed Chelsea’s only hope. With a view to helping that happen, boss Roberto Di Matteo brought on fresh legs with Fernando Torres with ten minutes left.

In the dying embers of the game, Chelsea’s counter attacking threats became much more than that as Fernando Torres broke through on goal.

Barcelona had sent everyone forward in search of the goal they so desperately needed. Chelsea managed to hook it clear to send Torres, who was stood on the halfway line by his lonesome, through on goal with only the keeper to beat.

He reached Valdes, jinked to his right and knocked the ball around the keeper before turning it into an empty net to send Chelsea through!

“OOOOOAAAARRRRRRAAARRRRAAARGGHHHHHHHHHHHH! UN-BE-LEEEV-ABLE!” Shouts co-commentator Gary Neville in a moment that will go down in football broadcast history as one of the most iconic!

What an incredible moment it was. It’s hard to believe it was eight years ago.

The Aftermath

In the final of the UEFA Champions League 2011/12, Chelsea faced off against German giants Bayern Munich in their own backyard – the Allianz Arena.

After a very intense match-up in Bavaria, Chelsea went on to win the Champions League courtesy of a penalty shoot-out, securing the one trophy that had eluded them for years.

In doing so, they also deprived their London rivals Tottenham of a Champions League spot. Under the old rules, as the fourth placed team, Spurs dropped out of the competition to allow the previous winners Chelsea to enter given that they had finished outside the top four.

What had been a pretty bleak season for Chelsea domestically turned into one of their greatest ever on the continent. The Barcelona game will always go down as one of my all-time favourites.

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