Ashley Cole returned from suspension for Chelsea, allowing Jose Bosingwa to revert to right-back at the expense of Branislav Ivanovic. Nicolas Anelka started again, virtually as a right winger, with Didier Drogba in the lone striker role.
Barcelona, meanwhile, were defensively without the injured Rafael Marquez and the suspended Carles Puyol. Pep Guardiola brought in Sergi Busquets, playing Toure Yaya at the back alongside Gerard Pique. Perhaps most crucially, weekend hero Thierry Henry failed a late fitness test, so Seydou Keita was drafted in.
For practically the first ten minutes, as expected, Barcelona monopolised possession. However, their only proper foray into the Chelsea box was fruitless. Lionel Messi's ball took an incidental touch off the hand of Michael Ballack, before it was worked to Xavi. His shot took a deflection en route to Jose Bosingwa, who cleared practically off the line.
The Blaugrana were looking to work the ball through the middle, always probing for an opening.
After nine minutes, though, they were hit with a hammer-blow. Goalkeeper Petr Cech launched the ball upfield, and Florent Malouda ended up in possession via the head of Didier Drogba. Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole took over, with the former's attempted cross looping off Toure Yaya. Michael Essien saw it fall from the air and smashed a glorious left-foot volley in off the underside of the crossbar.
There would be no penalties, with the game now to be decided within the following 80 or so minutes.
Barcelona continued to dominate with their passing game, but they still couldn't make an impact in the final third. Dani Alves thumped a free-kick wide after 20 minutes, but that was the sum total and the hosts tried to double their advantage midway through the half.
Drogba was really putting the pressure on the visiting rearguard, trying to force errors. As he was prowling around, Frank Lampard eventually took possession and clipped a pass over the top, but 'keeper Victor Valdes was out quickly enough to block the Ivorian's effort.
Soon after, Malouda scampered down the left and was wrestled to the ground by Alves right on the edge of the area. Drogba smashed for goal from an acute angle, and Valdes had to turn it out for a corner with his knee. As the ball was swung back in, John Terry headed across goal and the onrushing Alex was close to connecting.
On 26 minutes, Drogba latched onto another through-ball and ended up on the deck under pressure from Eric Abidal. There may have been a slight tug inside the box, maybe some contact by the leg of the defender. Either way, it was debatable, and the officials weren't interested.
Dani Alves then got himself into bother on the half-hour mark. He'd been in a bad mood from the off, and finally earned himself a fatal booking for a challenge on Ashley Cole, ruling himself out of the final were his side to progress.
Chelsea were impressive in mopping up, Bosingwa very solid in particular, making it hard for Barcelona to make inroads. They did work a decent opportunity at the death, however: Gerard Pique charged through the middle, passing the baton to Messi. It was Xavi who ended up blasting for goal, though, only for his effort to be deflected wide.
After the interval, the same pattern repeated itself: Barcelona seeing a lot of the ball, Chelsea looking to make the most of their occasional attacking flurries.
First, Anelka played in Drogba, allowing the striker a chance to charge into the area, turning Pique superbly as he did so. However, not for the first time in the tie he couldn't find a way past Valdes, side-footing straight at him. From the rebound, Lampard's shot was blocked before Malouda rifled into the side-netting.
It wasn't long before Drogba was on his way again. This time Toure Yaya stood up to the bullish striker, making him work hard to bypass him, before clearing the ball with a fabulous last-ditch tackle. Drogba wanted a penalty, but in truth the defending was perfection.
Barca did have a decent chance through Keita, but he volleyed high over the top after Andres Iniesta and Messi saw their move break down.
Messi also made himself a rare shooting opportunity, cutting in from the right and finishing over the bar.
On 65 minutes, however, another Chelsea long ball resulted in disaster for the Catalan giants of Barcelona. Abidal was beaten for pace by Anelka, who cut across the defender and went to ground. There was contact, if minimal, as Anelka adjusted his position, and the referee decided to send Abidal for an early bath.
The game actually opened up a little after the dismissal. Valdes had to get behind a Lampard drive at one end, before Alves again failed to work Cech from a dangerous set-piece situation.
The counter-attacking Blues managed to fit in another two penalty claims in regulation time. Toure Yaya again found himself as the last man, faced by a charging Anelka, but he was strong once more as he marshalled the marauding forward.
Then, Pique – soon after trundling wide at the other end – was at the centre of a handball appeal as Anelka desperately attempted to get round him. Referee Tom Henning Ovrebo was adamant that he wasn't going to give the Blues the benefit of the doubt on the night.
In the second of four added minutes, Barcelona cancelled Chelsea's tickets to Rome. Essien's clearance was weak, Messi turned the ball to the edge of the box and Andres Iniesta mustered Barcelona's first shot on target of the evening. It was an absolute stunner, and the Spanish champions elect will play Manchester United in the Champions League final.
Cue Pep Guardiola setting off on a Jose Mourinho-like dash down the touch-line.
There was one more penalty appeal in injury time - the weakest of the bunch, but the one that sent the Blues over the edge. Ballack's shot smashed into Samuel Eto'o's upper arm from close range. He was incensed, and booked.
As soon as the game ended after 97 minutes, the referee was surrounded by the Chelsea players, who refused to accept their fate without protesting.
Greg Ptolomey, Goal.com