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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 23 May, 2018


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Good evening and welcome to our live minute-by-minute coverage of tonight’s Champions League semi-final first leg.

Traffic in west London is a nightmare… so, just as well we’re safely tucked away in Dublin watching Bill and the boys –  like you wish you were doing right now.

Nice one. The team sheets have just been faxed over to towers.

Gerard Pique is on the bench as Barcelona go with Puyol and Mascherano at the back. Up against them will be Dider Drogba, preferred to Fernando Torres in attack.

Oh, the small matter of Barca’s attack? Fabregas, Sanchez and… I’m not going to say his name – plenty of time for that during the game.

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Meireles, Ramires, Mata, Drogba.

Subs: Turnbull, Essien, Torres, Malouda, Bosingwa, Kalou.

Barcelona: Valdes, Dani Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Sanchez, Fabregas.

Subs: Pinto, Pique, Bartra, Thiago, Keita, Pedro.

Good stuff, we have a healthy bit of score-forecasting down in the comments section. A Barcelona win tonight -especially in the region of three or four goals to one – would surely end the tie as a contest.

For what it’s worth: I think Chelsea are just about stubborn enough to chisel out a win here tonight. Maybe 2-1.

We all seem to be expecting goals anyway.

Right folks, I can almost smell the anticipation. Kick off is just two minutes away and the teams have left the tunnel.

No problems with the handshake, gentlemanly conduct is in effect for now. Ronnie Whelan is describing Chelsea’s game plan as ‘ hitting long balls to Drogba and hoping for good deliveries from set-pieces’

Is he wrong?

We won’t have to wait long to find out, Fabregas and Messi have just kicked us off and Stamford Bridge instantly begins booing as Barca start as they mean to go on, holding possession.

A full 80 seconds after the game started, Chelsea get their first touch of the ball, but a free kick is award to Barcelona and the black shirts have it back.

Meireles did manage to break up the next attack and Chelsea went and proved Whelan to be spot on. Once the ball was played back to Cech, he hoofed it long.

Drogba got in behind the defence and even got a creditable first touch on the ball with his left, but Valdes was out spritely to collect.

Drogba definitely fancies it tonight. The Ivorian collected the ball just inside the opposition half and embarrassed Maschserano with a nutmeg.

Suddenly, he found himself 40 yards from goal with only Puyol to beat, but panicked and the defender easily dealt with his heavy second touch.

Alexis Sanchez really should have given Barcelona a 9th minute lead.

Iniesta’s chipped through-ball broke the offside trap and Sanchez, after chesting down, lobbed Cech from 18 yards, but it bounced onto the bar and Cahill cleared.

Straight up the other end and Chelsea almost score a goal which is the complete antithesis of La Masia. The long throw caused all sorts of confusion in the box, dropped at John terry’s feet, but they were rooted to the spot.

As Alves went to clear, Cahill slid in and tackled the ball a foot wide of the post.

This is football!

Just signs of Chelsea, starting to get a little bit frustrated with this suffocating Barcelona system.

The Blues are playing with a full five across midfield. Mata is on the right, Ramires on the left,  Lampard, Mikel and Meireles in the engine room.

Cesc Fabregas has missed a sitter.

After dribbling into the left side of the box, Messi cut his pass back to Iniesta who smashed a low shot on goal. Cech did well to parry away, but it fell to Fabregas 10 yards out and he flung a left leg at it like a pub team clogger. It bounced off his left shin and behind Sanchez, sitting at the far post.

This is looking ominous, Chelsea spent a good three minutes camped in their own area. when they finally break, they panic. Meireles hitting an hopeful cross-field pass which ends up miles of target.

At least now, the Blues have moved camp up to halfway.

the visitors claim a penalty after Anders Iniesta wriggles past Terry into the box and goes down. Would’ve been a mighty soft one – Ashley Young soft.

Incidentally, Drogba is having a stormer. If anyone’s going to force an upset here tonight, it’s him. But as things stand a Barca goal is a matter of when.

It almost arrived there as Messi, improbably met the ball with his head 18-yards-out and powered the ball at the bottom corner. Superb save from Cech. John Terry would have been proud of that header.

Chelsea fans haven’t much to chant about, so they’ve taken to loudly cheering every free kick, every offside decision that goes their way. I don’t think they’re even ironic cheers, they’re just happy to get involved.

Five minutes before half time, Chelsea have regained a foothold in this game and Ashley Cole has wowed the crowd with a lovely drag-back and turn.

Another long throw comes to Meireles 20 yards out. His volley is blocked clear, leave those to Frank, Raul.

An outrageous cameo from the little flea.

As the rain begins to pour Messi turns on the halfway line, shrugging off the challenge of Mikel. After dribbling to near the edge of the box he sips through to Fabregas. His finish is better this time, good enough to beat Cech with the outside of his boot, but not clean enough to stop Ashley Cole getting back and clearing off the line.

GOAL! Chelsea 1 -0 Barcelona (Didier Drogba 46′)

The only man who looked capable for the Blues.

The goal came after Frank Lampard picked a sumptuous reverse ball from right of the centre circle to find Ramires galloping down the left win.

Puyol abandoned the striker and joined Mascherano to try and block Ramires at the near post, but the Brazilian’s cross was spot on. Cut behind the two defenders and onto Drogba’s left boot.

The pass from Lampard, the run and cross from Ramires and the finish from Drogba. A brilliant goal.

That’s half time. by the way.

Ah yes, the rain is bucketing down at the Bridge and Chelsea kick off the second half defending the Shed End.

Strap yourself in, this could get epic.

No need to panic from the visitors. They have begun the second period as they did the first, in control.

Iniesta and Fabregas are currently weaving pretty patterns on the left flank, trying to make space for Messi.

Instead the chance falls to Adriano, a curling right-footed shot punched away by Cech.

Another set-piece and again, Chelsea threaten. Lampard’s corner evaded Cahill’s flying boot by a matter of centimetres.

I was never a big advocate of Gary Cahill, but fair dues to him. The former Bolton man has blocked absolutely everything that has come his way tonight. So far.

In the words of Butch Wilkins: ‘My Word.’

Barca created yet another gilt-edged chance. Messi lofts a pass to the edge of the six yard box for Sanchez to run onto, he can’t decide whether to shoot or take a touch. He does the latter and Cahill slides the ball away.

The black shirts just keep on coming, Adriano’s cross zips its way right through the area without a touch. The ball comes out to Dani Alves who launches a shot into the upper sections of the Shed End.

The rain is still pelting down. It makes for awful dramatic pictures.

The UEFA stats have just popped up on the 60 minute mark to tell us the visitors have amassed a whopping 70% possession with over 500 passes.

Chelsea have made a meagre 180.

Messi chips the ball left and it’s handled by Mikel at the edge of his own box. A loud appeal from the visitors’ section helps the referee to his decision, but that is dwarfed when Messi’s free kick hits the wall and is cleared away.

Pedro is sent into action by Pep Guardiola, Sanchez is withdrawn. He’s been Barcelona’s least effective player.

A trend is developing. Messi is extracting a free-kick almost every time he gets the ball now. Ramires receives the first yellow of the night and it’s another 20-yard free-kick for Barcelona.

Xavi curls it over the bar, poor effort. The dip was never going to come soon enough from that close to goal.

Solomon Kalou is on the field in place of Juan Mata.

Nobody’s favourite player Sergio Busquets is the second to earn a yellow card. I’m happy.

We’re into the final 10 minutes and Barca are still peppering the the Chelsea box. Drogba breaks clear, but his pass his loose and back come Barca. Stop biting your nails, Chelsea fans. It’s an awful habit.

‘Chelsea must feel like they’re in command now’ says George Hamilton. Eh, no. They’re still seriously under the kosh.

This is a masterclass is sheer bloody-mindedness from Chelsea. Mourinho would be proud of them, I’m sure he’ll them so in his intimate text messages later tonight.

Kalou thought he had a clear chance there, but was offiside, but saved in any case.

Another big chance for Barca as Messi clips in a free-kick. It’s flicked on by Puyol’s diving header but Cech comes with a fantastic save to deny the away goal.

Two minutes to go.

It’s all hands to the pump even Drogba is back defending and he concedes a corner….

The Chelsea number 11 is the man of the match, he rises at the near post and heads clear Messi’s corner. We’re in injury time. Will there be late drama? Hopefully not.

How have Barcelona not scored tonight?

As Messi prepares to hammer one home, Gary Cahill slides it away. It rolls to Pedro who hits a perfect looking low shot curling towards the corner, but instead it cracks off the post and the next Barca player to meet it 12 yards out gets right underneath the shot and skies it over the bar.

Full time. One Step Beyond blares out of the speakers at the Bridge and home support cannot believe their luck.

Bill and the boys are trotting out the old ‘best team ever or not’. While they’re at it, here’s a (low quality) video of Pedro hitting the post right at the death.

YouTube credit: Mopl Masir

Eamonn is seeking attention and we will duly oblige. On Di Matteo, he says, “If he gets a team with John Obi-MIkel and Meireles tot eh Champions League final then he deserves a Nobel Prize for literature.”

Presumably for legibly writing their names on the team sheet.

Speaking to the BBC post match, the man we know and love as JT said:

“It will go down as one of the best performances. We had to be patient, we didn’t touch the ball in the first 10 or 15 minutes and we had to work very hard. It was a tireless performance. Didier Drogba was incredible and that’s what he’s all about.

“He was up there against some of the best in the world on his own but he holds it up and makes us play.

“It will be tough in the second leg, they had a lot of chances but quite clearly they will have opportunities there. We are not in awe of them, we respect them but another performance and we’ll be OK.”

No great rush from the English outlets to speak with anyone from Catalunya. Here’s Didier:

“We have learned and we have improved from three years ago because we didn’t concede. The result is a good one and we will go there and try to score another goal.”

Good idea. Meanwhile, DiMatteo hailed the performance as “almost perfect.”

“When you play Barcelona you have to do a lot of defending and they have all the possession, you have to limit their threat and be clinical when you get your chances.”

The Italian-Swiss coach yet again played down his role with the success, if Chelsea don’t want him he’ll be in demand next season… or he may just end up like Avram Grant.

“I’ve proven nothing.” Said DiMatteo, “This group of players has shown the determination and courage to play against the top team in the world and they showed their quality.

“It’s 50/50 now, there is still a second leg to be played away from home.”

Well folks, that’s it from me. We hope you enjoyed the live updates and that your prediction wasn’t too far wide of the mark.

Next week, the old firm of Spanish football will head home seeking to overturn first leg deficits.

First, of course, they must play eachother.

Chelsea v Munich in the final, anyone?

About the author:

Sean Farrell


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