It wasd Deja Vu for Barcelona who were once again frustrated by English opposition in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. Last year it was Manchester United and this year it was Chelsea who left the Camp Nou with a goalless draw.
Barcelona have now failed to win their last five home games against Premier League sides. For the most part Barcelona created few chances until in added time, when substitutes Bojan Krkić and Aleksandr Hleb both missed great opportunities.
More bad news for Barcelona was that they lost central defender Rafael Márquez to a knee injury and his replacement Carles Puyol collected a yellow card which rules him out of next week’s return.
Guus Hiddink’s decision to opt for John Mikel Obi and Michael Ballack as defensive midfielders in front of Chelsea’s back four yielded early dividends. The area in which Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernádez and Lionel Messi usually weave such dangerous passing patterns was hugely congested, meaning the home side lacked rhythm. But when Čech dropped a simple cross and Messi won his first sprint against stand-in left back José Bosingwa, the Portuguese conceding a free kick in the process, normal service at the Camp Nou began to be resumed.
A series of well-worked interpassing moves allowed Xavi, Eto’o and Thierry Henry to fire in shots as the tempo steadily increased, with Chelsea prevented from playing as high up the pitch as Hiddink had intended. As the visitors, who had drawn their last two matches here, attempted to stem the tide Ballack and Alex both collected yellow cards, although they were joined by Yaya Touré as the home side showed the first signs of frustration. When Henry struck a powerful and accurate shot that Čech had to push round his post, a Barça breakthrough looked imminent. Instead the best chance of the opening period fell to Chelsea as Márquez failed to deal with a long ball, allowing Drogba to race clear, but the Ivorian striker was denied by two brave blocks from Valdés.
The Barcelona goal came under more pressure at the start of the second period, Daniel Alves conceding a free-kick which Drogba dropped on to Ballack’s head, but the chance zipped over. The physical intensity of the game was still remarkably high and after Henry shook off a shuddering collision with Alex, Márquez’s grim night continued when he collapsed on the turf without being challenged and was carried off holding his knee. Barça responded positively to the setback, Alves powering into Chelsea’s penalty area and drawing another good stop from Čech.
As Messi and Alves peppered the Chelsea goal with stinging shots Čech added brilliance to his previous efficiency. Eto’o cleverly turned and outpaced Alex before turning the defender again and sliding in a precise shot which the goakeeper blocked with his leg. The real drama was still to come, however, Bojan heading over Alves’ right-wing cross from point-blank range before Čech crowned his excellent evening with another fine block from Hleb as Barcelona drew a blank at the Camp Nou for the first time since last season’s semi-finals.
Overall I was disappointed with Barcelona. They were on a streak of scoring in 50 games this season, but they seemed to be clueless how to break down Chelsea’s defense. The injury to Marquez is huge as Drogba is too strong for Pique and I expect Chelsea to win the second leg at Stamford Bridge next week.