Chelsea produced one of the greatest escapes in the history of European football on Tuesday, as they survived the sending off of team captain John Terry to win an astonishing Champions League semifinal against Barcelona.
For the second time in two weeks, Chelsea withstood a never-ending onslaught from the Spanish powerhouse and displayed ruthless efficiency when rare opportunities finally presented themselves. Despite going a man and two goals down in the first half, the Blues earned a 2-2 draw against Barcelona, eliminating the defending champions to advance into the final 3-2 on aggregate.
Chelsea was the team who provided the world with the first blueprint to halt Barcelona’s brilliance. It was in an infamous Champions League semi-final of 2009 that the Blues showed how to tame Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Barca, as a relentless work ethic and discipline throughout their team stunted the pass masters of the modern game. it should have paved the way for a victory against coach Pep Guardiola’s team, only for the lamentable efforts of Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo to deny Chelsea the win.
Fast forward three years and the Blues were able to implement the same master plan to dethrone the reigning kings of Europe. On a night of unparalleled drama at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, Terry appeared to have hit the self-destruct button on the Blues’ hopes of glory on the continent when he saw a red card for kneeing Barca forward Alexis Sanchez from behind. But the 10 men persevered and were stellar for the rest of the match, fighting back against goals from Spanish midfielders Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta with a stunning chip from Brazilian winger Ramires before half time. After surviving a Barca siege from start to finish that saw Messi miss a penalty, Fernando Torres, a native of Madrid–Barcelona’s cultural and political rival–came off the bench to score a stoppage-time breakaway goal as Chelsea avenged their ’09 defeat in the most dramatic fashion.
Chelsea’s victory brought to a close a stellar four-year reign that delivered 13 trophies to Barcelona. The result could mark the end of one of the most successful runs in club soccer. Barca was looking for a third Champions League title in four seasons, and this loss came right on the heels of a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid that all but ended their hopes of a fourth straight Spanish league crown. But what made their defeat a tougher pill to swallow was manager Guardiola’s announcement Friday that he will be stepping down as Barca’s coach.
His decision came just days after the two pivotal losses, though he said he had made his mind up back in December but preferred to wait until the team’s chase for the major trophies was complete. Despite developing one of the greatest teams world soccer has seen, the 41-year-old Guardiola said during a news conference at Camp Nou, that the demands of the job were too great and his energy levels were too low to continue. Messi wasn’t present at the announcement, later stating that he was too moved by the moment to attend the news conference of the coach who had helped him become Barca’s career scoring leader. The shock of Guardiola’s decision will have a lasting effect on Barcelona and the psyche of Messi. Guardiola will coach his final game during the Cope del Rey final against Athletic Bibao on May 25, where he can potentially add a 14th title to Barcelona. He departs with a record of 175-21-46, with a 618-178 goal difference. Assistant Tito Vilanova has been appointed as his successor.
Before the turn of the millennium, Barcelona and Chelsea had only ever faced each other in one competition, the 1966 Fairs Cup semi-final, when a Joaquim Rife-inspired Barcelona side won out 5-0 in a replay after the first two meetings had finished 2-0. Barca went on to win the competition and, coming as it did in the Real Madrid dominated mid-1960s, it was a rare trophy for the Blaugrana. Little did anyone know that the rivalry between Barca and the Blues would come to a intense boil less than half a century later and alter the balance of European football as we know it.
For Chelsea, reaching their second final came at a huge cost, with Terry’s red card and yellows for Ramires, defender Branislav Ivanovic and midfielder Raul Meireles ruling them out of the final. The Blues will have enough time to worry about the suspensions before they face Bayern Munich in the final. For now, they’ll continue to celebrate arguably the greatest result in the club’s history.