When the names came out of the hat for the 2nd round of the Champions league there was one tie that made the mouth water. One tie that over the years has produced moments of unbelievable skill, controversy, fierce anger and pure joy. Since the start of the Champions League, Chelsea and Barcelona have met 12 times. Chelsea have won on 4 occasions, Barcelona 3 times, with 5 draws. These meetings have been fraught with incident.
In April 2000, Chelsea took a surprise 3-1 aggregate lead to Barcelona in their first year in the competition, only to lose the return leg 5-1. A formidable front three of Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert and Rivaldo, assisted by Pep Guardiola, put Chelsea to the sword in the 2nd leg which was eventually decided in extra time. At the time it seemed like a fleeting visit into Europe’s most prestigious competition for Chelsea, before a successful 02/03 Premier League season prompted Roman Abromovich to buy the West London club. Record spending in the following two years, along with the recruitment of ‘The Special One’, José Mourinho, catapulted Chelsea into the higher echelons of European football.
In late 2005, Anders Frisk retired from refereeing following multiple death threats he received from Chelsea fans following questionable decisions made in the first leg at the Nou Camp. Chelsea took an incredible 3-0 lead in one of the most memorable 30 minutes ever seen at Stamford Bridge in the return leg, only for Ronaldinho to score a brace, the second of which changed the way football fans would view the toe poke forever. With Barcelona going through on aggregate, Chelsea captain John Terry scored with a controversial header. Carvalho, Terry’s central defensive partner, was clearly holding one of the Barcelona defenders back as the ball drifted into the far corner to send the Shed end into bedlam.
The semi-final in May 2009 saw pure heartbreak for Chelsea fans. One of the worst refereeing performance in Champions League history from Henning Ovrebo led to four stonewall penalty claims being turned down, only for Andres Iniesta to score a stunning injury time winner. This led to the now infamous “It’s a fucking disgrace” rant by Didier Drogba at the final whistle. The Ivorian, who was at the centre of many of the penalty incidents let his passion get the better of him, swearing and gesticulating wildly towards the television cameras, that had captured the events of another incredible evening of Champion League football. It is claimed that Pep Guardiola showed the Barcelona players a 7 minute video of their best moments of the season interspersed with clips from the film Gladiator before the game. It was certainly their gladiatorial spirit that meant they kept pushing until their last minute winner and gave them the confidence to comfortably beat Manchester United in the final of that year. Arguably the greatest football team of all time.
The semi-final in April 2012 was the most one-sided match-up between the teams. The Catalans dominated possession in both legs and missed a host of chances, particularly in the Nou Camp. The best footballer of his generation and perhaps of all time, Lionel Messi, missed a penalty to continue his woeful form against Chelsea, only for Fernando Torres to score a breakaway goal to embed him forever in the hearts of the Chelsea supporters. “Unbelievable.” This was the latest stunning result in an incredible Champions League season for Chelsea which eventually saw the Blues crowned champions with arguably the weakest team of the last 7 years, when they inexplicably defeated Bayern Munich on home turf in the final.
The latest two-legged match-up between Chelsea and Barcelona begins on the 20th February at Stamford Bridge, with the return leg in the Nou Camp on the 14th March. Although the odds will likely be stacked against the Blues, there have been times when the gap in quality between the two teams has been greater. If Conté gets his tactics right away from home and Hazard performs to his potential at Stamford Bridge, we could see another truly memorable showdown. Whilst Chelsea could have made their lives easier by finishing top in their group and avoiding the Catalan giants, there is no doubt that Barcelona will not be relishing the thought of facing the opponents that have been a consistent thorn in their sides for the last 12 years. We can only hope that without the likes of Terry, Lampard and Drogba, Chelsea can still put together two performances that will match the desire and quality exhibited by these club legends. A fast start by Chelsea could see another unforgettable 180 minutes of Champions League football. Bring on the London-Catalan derby.