Blues grit trumps Barca guile

The football purists may not want to hear it but sometimes, passion, mental grit and whole-hearted defending deserve as many plaudits as pretty triangles, mesmerising skills and outstanding goals; and last night Chelsea scored a quite beautiful victory over the mighty Barcelona.

Nobody gave them a chance, nobody thought the Stamford Bridge old guard still had it in them to mix it with the greatest team the world has ever seen — not after a season which has left them sixth in the Premier League and cost Andre Villas-Boas his job.

But a 5-1 victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final hinted at what was to come as Didier Drogba — who started the rout at the weekend — scored another crucial goal to earn his side a 1-0 win over the European champions and give them at least a hope of reaching their second ever Champions League final when they go to the Camp Nou next Tuesday.

“Didi is all about these big nights, the big occasions. He put fear into the Spurs’ defence at the weekend and he did that again tonight,’’ reflected Blues captain John Terry.

“He was up there on his own against some of the best defenders in the world and he did it brilliantly.”

Drogba added: “We are happy because the result is a good one, now we’ll go there to try to score another and qualify.”

Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola went as far as saying Chelsea are now the favourites to progress to the final.

“Now Chelsea are the favourites because 1-0 is a very good result for them. But at least we have a chance to play another 90 minutes.”

The game was meant to be all about Lionel Messi but the Argentine star couldn’t step up to the mark on this occasion and instead it was Chelsea defenders Gary Cahill, John Terry and Ashley Cole who led a determined rearguard action that earned their side a huge victory.

It was about Drogba, too, of course — the man that Barca fear — and about Frank Lampard, Ramires and revitalised goalkeeper Petr Cech who must have made six or seven stunning saves as Barca racked up 72% possession and struck 23 efforts on goal but still couldn’t breach Chelsea’s defence.

Even the woodwork got in on the act — Sanchez hitting the bar in the first half and then Pedro striking a post in injury time as Chelsea wobbled but didn’t fall.

Barca, of course, created a string of chances but the football gods seemed to be on Chelsea’s side.

Because as the rain poured down at Stamford Bridge and a cold wind blew across the stadium it was almost as if someone upstairs was saying ‘Welcome to England’ as Roberto Di Matteo’s players began the process of trying to gain revenge for a controversial semi-final defeat against the same opposition in 2009.

Fortune was certainly in Chelsea’s favour as Alexis Sanchez broke the offside trap but saw his lob come back off the crossbar in the ninth minute; and there was luck involved again when Ashley Cole cleared off the line after Cesc Fabregas’ effort looked certain to end up in the net with three minutes to go until half-time.

That opportunity was set up by Messi after Mikel had given away possession in midfield but the half’s decisive moment was to come five minutes later, deep into injury time, when the Argentine striker was robbed by Frank Lampard in almost exactly the same spot.

Lampard’s fine pass sent the energetic Ramires racing away down the left flank and his low cross was swept home at the far post by Drogba — who had spent most of the match up until that point rolling around on the floor and complaining he was being unfairly targeted by Barca’s defenders.

Certainly all the pre-match hype that suggested Barca were nervous of Drogba’s power and Chelsea’s combative style of play seemed to play into the home team’s hands because Guardiola’s side, normally so composed, surrounded the Ivorian in a state of panic whenever he was on the ball.

Remarkably, the foul count in the end was pretty even as were the bookings; but perhaps it’s fair to say the luck favoured Chelsea.

Sanchez wasted another incredible chance early in the second-half; Cech made a stunning save from a Puyol header late on and then with Chelsea fans biting their nails, Pedro’s last-gasp shot came back off the post — and Busquets fired the rebound over.

Fortunate? Yes. But Chelsea deserved it. They may not be the most beautiful side in the world but last night, they put the art into artisan and proved there is more than one way to play football.

“We knew we would have to do a lot of defending, they’re going to have a lot of possession, you have to try to limit their threat and take your chances,’’ Di Matteo said.

“Didier scored a crucial goal but it was a collective performance by the whole team and we managed to score the goal, he was in the right spot at the right time.”

Subs for Chelsea: Kalou for Mata 75, Bosingwa for Ramires 88.

Subs for Barcelona: Pedro for Sanchez 66, Thiago for Fabregas 78, Cuenca for Xavi 86.

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