Blaugrana beef and bitter Blues: Europe’s fiercest cross-border rivalry

Chelsea hosting Barcelona in tonight’s Champions League last 16 first leg brings back memories of what must be the hottest cross-border rivalry in modern European football.
Blaugrana beef and bitter Blues: Europe’s fiercest cross-border rivalry

Barca have just about had the better of 12 Champions League meetings already between the clubs this century, but Chelsea are fractionally ahead on grievances after a series of red cards [on both sides], refereeing mistakes, late winners, own goals, and managerial outbursts which have left scars on both sides.

2004/05 — last 16

The first meeting was back in 2000, when a pre-Roman Abramovich Chelsea were edged 6-4 on aggregate by a Barcelona side featuring Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert, and Pep Guardiola in a superbly entertaining tie.

Enter Jose Mourinho, in his first season with Chelsea, and the rivalry immediately turned nasty. After Swedish referee Anders Frisk showed a straight red card to Didier Drogba, and Barca came from 1-0 down to win 2-1 on the night, Mourinho refused to do his post-game press conference.

The newly minted ‘Special One’ did, however, tell Portuguese newspaper Dez Record: “When I saw [Barca coach] Frank Rijkaard entering the referee’s dressing room at half-time I couldn’t believe it. Then when Drogba was sent off, I wasn’t surprised.”

Mourinho was fined and suspended by Uefa, but his accusations stoked the atmosphere for the return.

Chelsea were 3-0 up inside 20 minutes, with Damien Duff among the scorers.

Ronaldinho hit back with a penalty and memorable big-toed strike to put Barca back ahead on away goals.

The officials then missed a clear foul on visiting goalkeeper Victor Valdes, as John Terry’s header sent Chelsea through.

Mourinho may have then felt vindicated, however, as Frisk retired from refereeing less than a month later, citing death threats received from Chelsea fans.

2005/06 — last 16

The following season saw a fresh-faced Lionel Messi quickly reduce outclassed marker Asier Del Horno to a shocking knee high studs-up challenge.

After Barca had won 2-1 against his 10 men, Mourinho again grabbed the headlines by unloading on Messi, Uefa, and the entire Catalan people.

“Can we take back the suspension for Del Horno?” the Portuguese said.

“Can we suspend Messi for play-acting? It is a cultural city Barcelona, you know all about theatre. Would it be right to send a B team to the Nou Camp and concentrate on the cup and the league?”

Messi was even quieter as a teenager, but still hit back: “I don’t act. We know what [Mourinho] is like, he likes to say things and heat up the atmosphere.”

A full strength Chelsea — except for Del Horno — drew the second leg 1-1 at the Camp Nou to exit the competition. An injury for Messi early in that game saw him miss that season’s final when Barca beat Arsenal.

2008/09 - semi-finals

The 2009 clashes are remembered quite differently in each camp. After a goalless first leg at the Camp Nou, Chelsea were well on top in the return, but Tom Henning Ovrebo incensed them by turning down four different penalty appeals, including a clear handball by Gerard Pique.

Frustration was boiling over even as Chelsea were going through to the final 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Michael Essien’s early long-ranger. Right until the 93rd minute when Andres Iniesta smashed home one of the most famous goals in blaugrana history to put Barca ahead on away goals.

There was still time for Ovrebo to deny yet another penalty claim, for handball against Samuel Eto’o. Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack raced the length of the pitch protesting the decision, while Drogba ran from the bench to confront the official, then shouted “it’s a fucking disgrace” to all the TV viewers at home.

“It was not my best day, really,” Ovrebo told Marca this week. “You can’t remember me or my career just for that game, although some people do... unfortunately.”

2011/12 — semi-finals

In 2012, Chelsea’s plan to defend their 1-0 advantage from the first leg was already going badly wrong, with Sergio Busquets having equalised the aggregate score. Then Terry was correctly red-carded for a crazy off the ball knee into the back of Barca forward Alexis Sanchez. Iniesta soon scored against the 10 men, and Guardiola’s side seemed assured of progress to the final. But Blues midfielder Ramirez shocked the Camp Nou by equalising before the break, Messi hammered a second-half penalty off the crossbar, and unlikely hero Fernando Torres broke away to seal things in injury time.

“Terry is a fantastic leader, everyone can make mistakes,” Blues manager Roberto Di Matteo claimed afterwards. Just weeks later the Chelsea captain was shedding his suit to celebrate with his team as they finally lifted the Champions League trophy.

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