LONDON: Ironically Chelsea beat hot favourites and Champions League holders Barcelona to reach the final in Munich with what is perceived generally to be the comparatively ‘poorest’ team of the entire nine-year era under Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
This is the ageing team who faded away last season under Italian master coach Carlo Ancelotti because the Russian oligarch had got his transfer strategy wrong and because the youth academy had not produced players in the manner of, say, Manchester United or Arsenal.
This is the ageing team whose power of personality destroyed Andre Villas-Boas and wrecked his attempt to rebuild the squad; the team who were left badly off the title pace in the Premier League and in the care of a caretaker manager (in Roberto Di Matteo) whose only previous top-level experience earned him the mid-season sack at moderate West Bromwich.
Yet somehow they managed to outwit Barcelona’s menagie of Euro and World Cup-winning superstars, panic Leo Messi so badly that he missed a penalty and ultimately out-thought Pep Guardiola who had become the darling of all those over-enthusiastic observers who forgot that football is a game of human passion not technological expertise.
Beyond all of that Chelsea, somehow, even managed to overcome the first-half sending-off of iconic captain John Terry’s to hit back from 2:0 down. They did so with magnificent spirit, disciplined defence and an all-over-the-pitch team effort.
As Spaniard Fernando Torres, thrilled scorer of the decisive second Chelsea goal, said: “I almost couldn’t believe I found myself free behind the Barcelona defence because, by that stage, I was virtually playing leftback.”
With that one strike the Spain striker repaid much of the £50m outlay by Chelsea to Liverpool in January of last year. Torres has been a major disappointment at Stamford Bridge but he was the right man, as a substitute, in the right place on Tuesday night.
The ex-Atletico de Madrid man has an impressive record against Barca, having netted seven goals in 10 league appearances against them for the Colchoneros.
Torres added: I have nice memories in this stadium, nice memories against them. But this one’s more special than any one before because it helped us to go the final. I am very happy to be part of the game, to score the goal.
“To be in the Champions League final, obviously, is a dream come true for all the Chelsea players, for all the Chelsea supporters who come here and everyone watching the game at home.
“It’s the second Champions League final for Chelsea. Everyone knows what happened in the past with the penalty shoot-out. So, I think Chelsea deserved a second chance and we have the chance now.”
Chelsea came into Tuesday night’s match boasting a 1:0 first-leg lead but went behind to goals from Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, either side of Terry’s sending off for felling Alexis Sanchez. Terry himself had no argument about the decision. Despite all that Ramires chipped a superb away goal in first-half stoppage time – and that proved the crucial moment.
Torres added: “When JT was sent off, when they scored the second one, it looked like everything was lost. Then, after Ramires scored, we started believing that we could do it. That goal made us believe. That was the key for us.”
Terry will not be the only Chelsea player missing the final because of suspension. So will Ramires, Brane Ivanovic and Raul Meireles who all collected second yellow cards. Ivanovic did not realise he would miss the final until he was informed about by a TV interviewer during all the celebrations after the match.
Chelsea’s success in reaching the final has added to the complexity of the closing stages of the Premier League campaign. Currently they are sixth in the league and it appears unlikely they will finish among the top four heading – under normal circumstances – for the Champions League next season.
So after the last round of matches on May 13 the fourth-placed club – probably Tottenham or Newcastle – will have to wait on the final to know whether they will ‘relegated’ into the Europa League so Chelsea can defend the crown which has always been Abramovich’s holy grail.
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