Essien's power denied final glory by his own error
Midfielder's wonder goal counts for nothing after late blunder hands Barça chance
Thursday 07 May 2009
If Lionel Messi sums up all that is good about Barcelona, then Michael Essien could be said to do the same for Chelsea. He runs, he kicks and by heck, he can play.
It was Essien's wonder goal that set Chelsea believing they were going to Rome to make amends for last year's defeat on penalties to Manchester United. He worked like a Trojan throughout, hassling and harrying as Chelsea strove to ensure Barcelona could not convert their greater possession into that vital goal.
But ultimately it was his slip which cost his team the tie. He should have done better with a clearance deep into stoppage time, and Andres Iniesta pounced to bring the game to its amazing end.
The error was harsh on Essien. He has been one of the heroes of Chelsea' resurgence since returning to the side after damaging his knee ligaments. He was one of the power players Barcelona feared.
Since Claude Makelele left London to return to Paris last summer, the uncomplaining Essien has been pressed into a role of midfield destroyer. He was at it again last night, in tandem with Michael Ballack, patrolling the area in front of the back four with menace, energy and power. But there is so much more to his game, as he showed with a strike of such shocking ferocity and accuracy it shattered Barcelona's belief that their beautiful football deserved to win.
Barcelona did nothing much wrong as Chelsea attacked in the ninth minute, but when the ball broke to Essien, deflected up off Barcelona defender Yaya Touré, he hit the volley with such timing and technique it almost broke the bar before bouncing into the net.
Essien moved to Chelsea in August 2005 for £24.4m but only because the club had failed to land their No 1 target, Steven Gerrard. Essien's wonder goal was trademark Gerrard.
One day a Chelsea manager is going to let Essien off the leash, and give him the licence to play the explosive football of which he is clearly capable. But last night was not the occasion, notwithstanding his brilliant goal. Essien fully understands the importance of self-sacrifice for the team. So for the rest of the night he reverted to playing the role of destroyer with his usual energy and discipline.
Whenever Barcelona playmaker Xavi had the ball he was faced by Essien, Ballack or Frank Lampard. Sometimes all three. Chelsea were determined to starve the Spaniard of any space. With Iniesta pressed into attack and Touré asked to play in defence, the Barcelona midfield was devoid of its normal shape and vigour.
But that is to take nothing away from the way Chelsea imposed themselves on the visitors. The midfield were determined not to let Barcelona pass. Chelsea's defeat to Manchester United in Moscow a year ago is the greatest motivation any player could want. For men like Lampard and Ballack, John Terry and Didier Drogba, the memories of that night in the Luzhniki Stadium will only be banished when they finally lift the trophy.
The determination to make amends for that night drove Chelsea on. When Lionel Messi cut inside, there was Essien to block his way. Daniel Alves made a dash forward from right back and Lampard blocked his path. Seydou Keita fired in a shot, and Ballack deflected the ball away for a corner. Xavi shot from distance, and Ashley Cole dived in to block.
Everyone chipped in for the collective cause. But it was the finest of lines Chelsea were treading. And they were caught out in the most cruel of manners, as Essien failed to clear and Iniesta applied the coup de grâce.
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