Not the beautiful symphony of attacking football we expected, instead the jarring clang of Catalan invention on Guus Hiddink's implacable, unrelenting defence. No one spoils a party like Chelsea and last night at here they stopped European football's biggest carnival in its tracks.
Their performance was proof that Hiddink can play the Jose Mourinho way when the situation requires. Chelsea can stifle, defend and frustrate with the best of them and, come this morning, most of European football will hate them for the manner in which they stopped Lionel Messi and his men. But if you looked hard enough at this performance there was much to admire in Chelsea, chiefly the spirit of a team that refuses to lie down no matter who the opposition.
His weapon of choice is aggression, he provides 90 minutes of sheer irritation for the opposition but Didier Drogba is astonishingly effective. He led the line on his own, isolated from a Chelsea midfield that defended in their own half. John Terry and Alex were indefatigable and the star of the show was Petr Cech. Even Florent Malouda put in a shift that severely curtailed the attacking threat of Daniel Alves.
It will win Chelsea no friends, but it might just win them this Champions League semi-final when they meet Barcelona in the second leg a week today. As for Josep Guardiola's team, they were exhilarating to watch at times but they played far too much of their football in front of Chelsea rather than behind them. They have the Arsenal syndrome of over-elaboration and it cost them at times last night.
The other problem that looms for Barcelona is the booking for Carles Puyol that rules him out of the return leg, compounded by the injury to Rafael Marquez that looks certain to keep him out too. Without two of their centre-halves this will be a tall order for Barcelona in west London, where they will surely be tested in defence rather more than they were last night. In seven days' time Chelsea will have to demonstrate they can create as efficiently as they can destroy.
What happened to Messi? He flickered more than once in the first half, especially when he held off Drogba to play in Alves for a shot that Cech saved. Then gradually the Argentine was edged to the margins, his partnership with Alves broken up by Jose Bosingwa and Malouda and he drifted out of the game. Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry, the two other parts of that lavish attacking force, were both substituted. It was that kind of a night for Barcelona.
Only on three previous occasions this season have Barcelona failed to score and yet they so nearly did in five tense minutes of added time. The substitute Bojan headed over from four yards out when Alves crossed. Then Cech saved brilliantly when Alexander Hleb, another substitute, was played onside by the prostrate Michael Ballack. It was the last of four crucial saves made by the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Henry made some early inroads in the space behind Branislav Ivanovic at right-back but by the time he was substituted the Frenchman was exhibiting the familiar signs of frustration that were his trademark at Arsenal. He, like the largely ineffective Eto'o, found himself chased and harried in his every move. Hiddink's strategy was that Barcelona should never be permitted to express the rhythm of their football and that in turn enraged the Nou Camp.
The home crowd called out for more bookings for the men in yellow shirts, and wanted a penalty when Henry and Ivanovic clashed in the area on 74 minutes – a request that looked borderline at best. This stadium is not accustomed, in recent years, to not getting things their own way and they will have bleak memories of last night. Manchester United eliminated Barcelona in similar circumstances in last year's semi-final with a goalless draw in the Nou Camp.
Never has Terry cleared, Peter Kay-style, as far as he could upfield to no one in particular. Rarely have so many Premier League luminaries, like Frank Lampard and Ballack, been content to occupy secondary roles as tacklers and spoilers. When Hiddink claimed that he was minded to go for the throat of Barcelona on the flight to Spain he was evidently bluffing. That or he lost his nerve somewhere on the drive from the airport to the hotel.
He dropped Nicolas Anelka and brought in John Obi Mikel to play alongside Ballack in a holding midfield pair in front of the back four that made Chelsea's formation look more similar to that favoured by Rafael Benitez at Liverpool. In the first flurry of attacks that rolled towards Chelsea you had to wonder if the line of yellow Chelsea shirts – sometimes 11 behind the ball, never less than 10 – would hold. But gradually they wore down Barcelona's spirit.
Alex took a crafty booking to bring Messi down in mid-run in the first half. Alves at right-back became preoccupied with a row with Malouda that spilt over into an argument with Drogba. It all served to distract the home team from the job in hand. To top it all, Drogba almost scored with six minutes left of the half which would have been the ultimate indignity to a Barcelona team who had 70 per cent of the first-half possession.
The chance came from a terrible back pass from Marquez which allowed Drogba to run at goal through the left channel. He snapped in his shot low and Victor Valdes saved. Marquez was later carried off in the second half, his knee giving way with no one around him.
Eto'o slipped the ball through Terry's legs at one point and got away from Alex but his shot was saved by Cech. Hiddink substituted Lampard for Juliano Belletti and switched Michael Essien from the right wing to the centre of midfield for the last few minutes of the game. It was clever stuff designed to give fresh impetus to Chelsea's defensive action.
It can take a lot of effort to appreciate Chelsea: you have to be a connoisseur of grim defending and rigid tactical discipline. But you also have to respect a team that can come to a stadium as intimidating as this one and stick so unflinchingly to the plan. The first part of their mission is complete but next week they will have to show us there is also some beauty in the beast.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Marquez (Puyol, 52), Pique, Abidal; Xavi, Touré, Iniesta; Messi, Eto'o (Bojan, 82), Henry (Hleb, 87). Substitutes not used: Jorquera (gk), Gudjohnsen, Keita, Sylvinho.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Bosingwa; Mikel, Ballack (Anelka, 90); Essien, Lampard (Belletti, 71), Malouda; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Di Santo, Kalou, Mancienne, Stoch.
Referee: W Stark (Germany).
Man for man marking
Believed to be suspect on crosses but given few to deal with. Good save from Drogba 7/10
Charged forward as usual, only to cross poorly until late on. Kept Malouda quiet 6
Former Man United man was mostly solid and produced fine pass to give Alves a chance 7
Bad error let Drogba in for his double chance before twisting his knee 4
The France international offered some good support to Henry down the left 6
Kolo's younger brother was more than a holding man. Saw plenty of ball and used it well 6
Always in the mix, playing little passes to Messi and Iniesta, with great success 6
Under-rated midfielder kept his team ticking as ever and got some shots in. Much fouled 8
Frequent changes of position but in the end, threatened more than he produced 7
Man City fans will have loved one early turn and shot. Denied by Cech when through 7
Reborn after a difficult first season, he worried Ivanovic and could have had a penalty 7
Carles Puyol 6; Bojan Krkic: Missed Barça's best chance late on; Alex Hleb.
Missed his first cross, dropped second, but recovered to make important saves 7/10
A difficult night against Henry for the hero of Anfield, who barely held his own 6
Booked early on for a foul on Messi and had to tread carefully thereafter 7
Lost Eto'o once but took no other chances. Went up for set pieces without success 7
Did reasonably. Unsure sometimes whether to go with Messi when he nipped inside 6
John Obi Mikel
Unexpected selection, too often found Barça's midfield technicians playing past him 5
Played behind Essien with little attack scope. Booked and could have been sent off 5
Few opportunities to forage forward until moved centrally after Lampard went off 6
Forced too deep by the home team's surfeit of possession, so couldn't make or take chances 5
Drawn into a feud with Alves which did nothing to help him maintain improvement 5
Had too little support. Thwarted by Valdes when presented with a good chance 6
Juliano Belletti (70): On to help Ivanovic n/a
Nicolas Anelka (90): Came on too late to make impact n/a
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