Strike one: Chelsea gain upperhand

It was being billed as the dream final in the Champions League: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. At this rate,however,neither of the Spanish giants will make it through to the May 19 showpiece in Munich

Written by Associated Press | London | Published: April 20, 2012 3:55 am

STEVE DOUGLAS

It was being billed as the dream final in the Champions League: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. At this rate,however,neither of the Spanish giants will make it through to the May 19 showpiece in Munich.

A day after Madrid was beaten 2-1 at Bayern Munich in the first leg of their semifinal,Barcelona – and its star forward Lionel Messi – slumped to a 1-0 loss at Chelsea on Wednesday. With 72 percent possession and 24 shots attempted,Barca’s players came away from Stamford Bridge shaking their heads wondering how they’d lost. Their hopes of becoming the first team to defend the Champions League hinge on overturning the deficit next Tuesday at the Camp Nou. “Only winners are remembered,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said,when asked if his team had been “mugged.”

“This game is about putting the ball into the net. And it’s the most difficult thing.” With Messi in the team,scoring hasn’t been much a problem this season. The Argentina international’s current tally in all competitions stands at 63,four off the record set by German great Gerd Muller in the 1972-73 season. Yet,for once,he was subdued,often dropping too deep and being caught up in a clogged Chelsea midfield.

A prodigious defensive effort,particularly by center backs Gary Cahill and John Terry,kept one of the world’s most fearsome attacking units at bay in the driving rain. When gaps were found,Alexis Sanchez and Pedro hit the goal frame and Cesc Fabregas had a shot cleared off the line.

At the other end,Chelsea had a deserving matchwinner in Didier Drogba. With Chelsea’s only shot on target in the whole match,the 34-year-old Ivory Coast striker — in perhaps his last season at the London club – met a cross from Brazil midfielder Ramires in first-half stoppage time to score the only goal. It was Drogba’s 38th Champions League goal — only Messi has scored more since the 2003-04 season — and capped a tireless display by the striker who was forced to live off scraps all night.

“Didi is all about these big nights,the big occasions. He put fear into the Spurs defense at the weekend and he did that again tonight,” Terry said. Interim Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo spoke on the eve of the match about needing “two perfect matches” to get past Barca. After a win and a clean sheet,one of them is out of the way but there is much work still to be done. Keeping Messi quiet for another 90 minutes at the Camp Nou will require a Herculean effort.

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