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CHELSEA V. BARCELONA, UEFA CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE
At STAMFORD BRIDGE, APRIL 4, 2000
Reviewed by ANDRE BEAUMONT
Quarter Finals, First Leg. Result : Chelsea 3 Barcelona 1
Half-time : Chelsea 3 Barcelona 0
This was a game where Chelsea played at near their best and adopted new tactics that took Barcelona by surprise. By the end of the match, it ranked as a Stamford Bridge classic and very enjoyable to watch.
Many commentators in the British media speculated in advance that Chelsea would concentrate on attack at their own ground to take the game away from Barcelona's world famous strike force of Rivaldo, Kluivert and Figo.
In the first fifteen minutes it looked as if Chelsea had failed in their presumed intentions. Goalkeeper Ed De Goey had to save three times including from a low shot from a free kick and a shot from Gabri. Barca's passing was accomplished and possession and pressure was largely theirs.
Yet by the end of this early spell it became apparent that Chelsea were playing different tactics from usual. The team was playing to defend as a priority, to deny goals.
Throughout the game, when Barcelona had possession, Chelsea players could be seen doubling up and doubling back to deny the Spanish team. It was reminiscent of the way Real Mallorca had worked in the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final the previous year to smother Chelsea's attempts at marauding.
Petrescu played in a much less forward role than usual and Morris was in the team instead of the much more attacking Poyet, presumably for his combative, high work rate in midfield struggles.
Luis Figo, the most impressive Barcelona player all night, dangerous to Chelsea down the right - and yet more so down the middle later in the game - nearly set up Kluivert for a goal but Emerson Thome, Brazilian substitute for the suspended Frank Leboeuf, produced a goal saving tackle.
Thome remained a defender in the right place at the right time throughout the match. Ferrer, too, was solid and reliable against his old club. Babayaro was combative and combined well with Desailly who was playing out of position at left centre-back. Indeed, Babayaro has been more impresive this season as a wing back than last year as a midfield player.
That Chelsea knew how to defend was confirmed by manager Vialli's enlightening comment after the game that not only had strikers Zola and Flo played particularly well but that they had been Chelsea's first line of defence, too.
Perhaps sitting deep suits Chelsea more than they realize but by the 25th minute they had swung to attack. Desailly headed a Zola cross at goalkeeper Hesp. Then Barcelona captain Figo handled the ball at the edge of the penalty area.
Zola took what may prove to be his most memorable free kick, curling the ball, in the 29th minute, with plenty of spin, over the wall of defenders, beating the goalkeeper, too slow off the mark, into the left hand side of the net.
Vialli's and Wise's grins of glee were there for all to see.
Within eight minutes Chelsea has struck again twice. Zola provided Flo with a well-placed cross that he angled with his usual skill past the goalkeeper in the 34th minute. In the 37th minute Deschamps' volley found Flo who again tapped the ball past the goalkeeper.
Stamford Bridge erupted in joy at the dream scenario of going three goals up against Barcelona before half-time.
Barcelona exerted pressure for the remaining minutes of the half. Rivaldo, frequently a threat to Chelsea on the left, powered a ferociously fast free kick over the crossbar but De Goey appeared to have it covered, in all events.
The appearance of Jari Litmanen for Barcelona at half-time materially improved their midfield but not a rickety defence that looked too spread out when Barcelona went forward.
Nonetheless, Barcelona were too experienced not to apply pressure competently despite being three goals down.
Ferrer blocked a Rivaldo shot in the 62nd minute and Luis Figo made ample amends for conceding the first half free kick by making a brilliant run through the centre of the Chelsea defence to pick up a cross from the left which he angled past De Goey with time to spare.
His crucial away goal put Barcelona back in contention.
De Goey soon had to stop a fierce shot from Rivaldo but Thome, once again timely and in the right place, cleared the rebound off De Hoey just before Kluivert could get to it.
Kluivert's substitution by Dani shortly afterwards increased the psychological pressure on Chelsea, Dani having scored against them in the previous season's Cup Winners' Cup and being quicker to the ball.
Nonetheless, Chelsea counter-attacked, as they had with success all match. Flo broke clear in the 74th minute and, facing only the goalkeeper, put his shot wide.
Desailly, frequently surging forward to play in the midfield in the second half, and breaking the perception that Chelsea were oriented for defence, powered a header, off a corner kick, at great velocity straight at the keeper.
After the game Flo commented : "We know the job is nowhere completed yet because they can easily score three times at the Nou Camp. It's going to be a totally different game there. The key for us will be to concentrate on what we have to do. It is going to be very hard."
As for Louis Van Gaal, he identified whether Chelsea could score an away goal as being crucial to the second leg but was confident of Barcelona's abilities : "I'm confident we can reach the next round. Getting an away goal was very important. We can score two more at home - we've done it many times this season."
It is said you win nothing with youngsters. Chelsea fielded a side that played cohesively together, aware of the task before them. It is a side of very experienced internationals, some might say ageing, determined to add silverware while they can. Charismatic Barcelona faces a determined challenge at the return match in the Nou Camp.