CL Comment: Chelsea Unlucky, But Barcelona Win Is A Victory For Football

Goal.com's Peter Staunton gathers the fall-out from a memorable Champions League encounter...
Be honest.

Who was screaming at the television, demanding Pep Guardiola change something, anything as the second half went on. Chelsea looked comfortable holding Barcelona at arms-length, albeit as comfortable as Sunderland looked holding Manchester United goalless for 90 minutes at Old Trafford earlier in the Premier League season.

At home and with the advantage handed to them by an exquisite strike of rare beauty from the left-foot of Michael Essien, Chelsea's task resembled that which faced them last week in Camp Nou. Stop Barcelona doing what they do best. Playing football.

And they did it. Barca did not have a single shot on goal. And they were denied at least two, maybe three, possibly four penalties. But the penalties should not be the whole story, even though the decisions of the Norwegian referee influenced the outcome beyond argument.

Chelsea did manage to unlock the Barcelona defence, with Eric Abidal in particular being heavy-legged. But they did not dominate. They played like an away side, twice. They chased the ball, like Jack Russells after pebbles. They could not string their passes together in either game, aside from Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack. They were harried and harassed into mistakes and allowed the Blaugrana to recycle possession time and time again.

When the team in yellow overturned the ball, even when requiring a goal of their own, they did the same thing with it. Over and over. They sought Lionel Messi, they sought Andres Iniesta, they looked to play one-twos off the delicate feet of Samuel Eto'o with his back to goal. Their task, after going one behind, did not change. And neither did their outlook, despite the lack of joy up front.

Armchair pundits the length of the continent would have wanted Guardiola to stir the pot and alter things. Another forward; Eidur Gudjohnsen perhaps. Withdraw and ineffective performer, Messi and Iniesta both foraged for impact in vain. Alex and John Terry in particular saw to that.

But is he capable? The young coach does not convince that he is possessed of the tactical nous to influence a game from the sidelines. He gives the impression of only being able to show his hand from the outset and trust entirely in the application of his players.
 
For his part, Guus Hiddink showed more innovation in his selections, even if they were each as pragmatic as the other. The Dutchman knew exactly what it would take to oust Barcelona from this competition and was only a minute away from achieving it. He deserves to be lauded and Chelsea will be weaker in his absence.

Then, a bolt from the blue, a breakthrough, a eureka. Essien missed a clearance off the back of a decent Daniel Alves cross. Two events that were conspicuous by their respective absences for nigh-on 180 minutes of football. And we had it. Messi - Iniesta - Pick It Out Petr.

One shot, one goal and a Champions League final. It did not come from a hack, hoof or a dubiously won penalty kick. It came from a trust in convictions and a willingness to stick by a plan.

Barcelona are a better football team than Chelsea. They proved that by limiting the Blues to containment and damage limitation. And Chelsea are not a third-tier side, visiting a Premier League ground in an FA Cup day out. They are a team of multi-million euro footballers and international captains.

For doing that, with ten men, Barcelona demand respect and admiration. Granted, with another referee, we could be relishing Chelsea and Manchester United, but then shouldn't the European Cup final pit the two best teams on the continent against each other?

Peter Staunton, Goal.com