Four years ago, newly wealthy Chelsea came to the Camp Nou for the first leg of a Champions League knock-out tie and parked the bus in front of goal. Chelsea were aided by a Barca own goal totally against the run of play before losing 2-1. After the game, the Catalan press were incensed that Chelsea could spend hundreds of millions of pounds and then play as if they were Sheffield United when they went on the road. If a team is full of elite talent, then it ought to play like it.
The song remains the same. Chelsea's manager is different and many of their players are different, but the result is the same. The Blues came to Barcelona and deployed the most expensive ten-man defensive wall since...Manchester United did the same thing last year. I expected more from Guus Hiddink. If Chelsea took a risk tonight, I must have missed it. Instead, they deployed Frank Lampard and Michael Essien, two of the best midfielders in the world, as auxiliary defenders. Their ostensible second forward Florent Malouda was charged with retreating to help defend against Leo Messi and Dani Alves. Didier Drogba was completely isolated up front. The only chance that he had in the match was handed to him on a silver platter by Rafa Marquez.
Although I am happy to heap plenty of scorn on Chelsea for playing gutless football, Barca deserve some blame for the 0-0 scoreline. The Blaugrana looked a little tentative, almost like they were spooked by the occasion. Leo Messi was certainly off of his normal form. Chelsea were able to clog the normal passing lanes through the middle, so Barca were forced to shoot from outside or face a sea of yellow jerseys in the box. Earlier in the season, the Blaugrana were able to thwart such tactics by being more effective at scoring from corners and Dani Alves' crosses. Today, Chelsea snuffed out Barca's corners completely and Bojan missed the one great chance to score off of an Alves cross, heading over from four yards out. True to his reputation as an attacker who cannot score, Alexandr Hleb then followed Bojan's miss with one of his own when he was one-on-one with Petr Cech.
The worst aspect of the game tonight is that Chelsea now stand a great chance of being rewarded for anti-football. They made no effort to play, but now they take a draw back to London and know that Barca will have no idea who to play a center back with Puyol suspended and Marquez injured. The next man in line is Martin Caceres, but he is hardly ready for prime time. Also, Chelsea will likely get the breaks from the ref that Barca didn't get tonight when Wolfgang Stark refused to hand out yellow cards for cynical challenges and then didn't award a penalty for an obvious pull on Thierry Henry's shoulder in a scoring position.
I'm very frustrated right now, if you can't tell. All of the negative feelings about Chelsea that have ebbed away after Mourinho took his dog and pony show to Milan have come rushing back. If you're going to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a team, then you might consider playing football as opposed to recreating the Great Wall of China.