|Chelsea's upset of Barcelona in a Champions League semifinal flies in the face of statistics|
|Written by News desk - yahoo.com|
|Thursday, 19 April 2012 09:45|
Chelsea's 1-0 victory over Barcelona in a Champions League first-leg semifinal Wednesday was more than a dramatic upset: It spawned one of the most extraordinary anomalies since soccer fell in love with statistics a decade ago.
Didier Drogba's 45th-minute goal was the difference, giving huge underdog Chelsea a realistic chance of clinching a spot in next month's final.
However, Barca could only shake its collective head at the outcome, having exercised almost complete dominance, only to come up short on a rainy night at Stamford Bridge in West London.An uncharacteristic mistake by Lionel Messi cost Barcelona. (Getty)Coach Pep Guardiola's visitors controlled 72 percent of the possession, a high mark in any game, but especially so away from home. The reigning champion incredibly completed 782 successful passes to Chelsea's 194, yet was still unable to find a way through and now faces a stern challenge at home next Tuesday.
"I would say the favorites are now Chelsea," Guardiola said. "If (soccer) is about counting possession we would win every game. The game is about putting the ball in the goal."
For Chelsea to stand a chance in this home-and-home clash, a victory at Stamford Bridge was imperative. Achieving it required every one of three factors – ferocious defending, opportunism in front of goal and pure, unadulterated luck.
The Chelsea backline that looked so fragile in the closing weeks of former coach Andre Villas Boas' doomed reign has added steel under interim boss Roberto Di Matteo, with captain John Terry, newcomer Gary Cahill and goalkeeper Petr Cech all nerveless and outstanding.
Even so, some fortune was required, and if Alexis Sanchez's flick over Cech had crept under the crossbar early on instead of crashing against it, the result might have been different. Barca was denied by the woodwork again in injury time at the end of the game, when Pedro curled a low shot past Cech's reach but against the post.
Drogba has carved a career out of his predatory instincts in front of goal, and he showed them off again. Remarkably, it was the usually unflappable Lionel Messi, who appeared to have slightly strained a groin muscle moments before, who made the critical mistake.
Messi gave the ball away in midfield, allowed Chelsea to mount a rare break. Brazilian defender Ramires burst forward, crossed the ball to the feet of Drogba, and the Ivory Coast striker drove it through Victor Valdes' grasp from close range. Barca's typical attempt to inflict death by a thousand cuts failed to hit any major arteries and Chelsea fights on.
"It is a big win for us," Drogba said. "When you play a team like Barcelona you know you are going to have to work hard, try not to get frustrated and make the most of your chances when they come."
Both teams now find themselves at something of a crossroads heading into the second leg. Barca will take on its hated rival Real Madrid on Saturday in a contest that could decide theSpanish La Liga title. Read Madrid is also coming off a shocking Champions League loss, having fallen to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the other semifinal Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Chelsea's best chance of returning to the Champions League next season would be to win it this year, as it is by no means guaranteed to finish in the top four in the English Premier League.
Yet this is the prize Chelsea craves more than any other, with owner Roman Abramovich's desire for this particular piece of silverware bordering on an obsession.
Wednesday brought that possibility a step closer, even if Barca felt it was the better side and could scarcely believe that it heads back to Spain empty handed.
Mark Twain likely didn't know much about soccer, but the adage he wrote about "lies, damned lies and statistics," has rarely rung so true.