The superstar forward was a long way short of his brilliant best as the Blaugrana failed to make the most of their supremacy, leaving them with much to do at Camp NouIt may well have dominated possession just as in any other game, but Barcelona’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League semifinal first leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night was all its own doing. And at the crux of the disappointment was Lionel Messi’s inability to stamp his undoubted class on proceedings.
That Messi played a crucial role in the winning goal was no real shock. That it was in handing over possession to Frank Lampard in the build-up to Didier Drogba’s crucial strike was unexpected to say the least, and that proved to be his greatest mark on the game.
Moments earlier he had gone down off the ball and with the amount of collisions occurring across the field all night, many were expecting the replays to show some contact between the Argentine and Raul Meireles. Instead, Messi had simply slipped on the increasingly wet Stamford Bridge turf. It was the story of his night, in many ways.
He was to carry much of the fight in the second half, but rarely looked like making the difference. Instead he looked a shadow of himself, both in his play and his body language. Whenever he got to the business end, Chelsea was equal to him. John Terry and Gary Cahill may have already proven that they could be usurped, but in terms of throwing themselves in front of everything Messi had to offer, they had this one sussed.
Barcelona can win without the triple Ballon d’Or winner being at the center of everything, but it naturally looks infinitely more convincing when he is the unflappable go-to guy. But with the No. 10 off his game and Xavi equally anonymous, Barca was left ruing a catalogue of missed chances from its support cast.
Messi on the move | But he was to ask few questions of the Blues all night
Alexis Sanchez lofted the ball over Petr Cech and onto the Chelsea bar, Cesc Fabregas clipped a chip without the outside of his boot goalwards but it lacked the pace to beat Ashley Cole’s goal-line clearance. He’d also got into another great position on the left but couldn’t beat Cech.
In the second period, Sanchez would miss the best chance of the lot, sliding a shot wide of the near post with his instep. The Chilean had given Chelsea the runaround for much of the evening, but when all’s said and done, the net should have been left bulging.
Messi’s late free kick put Carles Puyol in behind the Blues’ back line, but Cech was spectacularly equal to the captain’s effort. In injury time, the Argentine attempted a one-two with Sergio Busquets, with the ball falling for Pedro, whose shot hit the far post. Busquets could only sky the loose ball, and the last chance was gone. Barcelona's inability to score was only its fourth failure in front of goal in 59 games this season.
In 2009, Barcelona made it to the final without having to beat Chelsea, but this time it will need a victory at Camp Nou to keep alive its dream of becoming the first team ever to win successive editions of the Champions League.
The Blues will claim to have a measure over Barca now, and it’s not a point that is easy to argue against. They have gone six games without defeat against the Blaugrana, and an extension of that run to seven will see them earn what just weeks ago was a highly improbable trip to Munich on May 19.
Messi, meanwhile, has yet to score in seven games against the Blues. And if both Barcelona and the Argentine have just as quiet a night again next Tuesday, Chelsea's unlikely turn-around will be complete, while the Catalans’ bid to make history will be over.