1-0, Drogba (min. 46)
FC Barcelona are certainly strong contenders to retain their European title, but tonight's game at Stamford Bridge served as a reminder that there are others too. And one of those is Chelsea, deserved 1-0 winners tonight thanks to an early second half goal from Didier Drogba.
Both sides still have every chance of qualifying for the next round of the Champions League, but Tuesday's result put the Londoners in pole position, and will also have served as a major morale booster for Jose Mourinho's squad. After a fairly well matched first half, the Blues dominated proceedings in the second half, squandering several chances to stretch their lead even further.
With both sides reasonably confident of qualifying from the group, the game was played at a faster, more open and flowing pace than previous encounters between the two teams. Chelsea opted to take the game to Barça from the start, with Essien in particular impressing in midfield, and Andrei Shevchenko twice coming close to scoring on the quarter hour.
Meanwhile, in the Barça ranks, the player that was shining most was Leo Messi. In the 23rd minute his effort from a narrow angle was parried away by Hilario, and if there had been any concerns that Chelsea's third choice stopper would not be up to the pressures of such high level football, these were soon put aside when the Portuguese stopper once again prevented the young Argentinian from opening the scoring after a lightning fast one-touch Barça move involving four players.
Stamford Bridge, where Messi came of age with a stellar performance last season, is a place that obviously brings out the best in the youngster. On 39 minutes his long range effort just went wide, and seconds later he found himself in the danger zone again, but surrounded by three Chelsea defenders there was little he could do. There had been little to pick between the two sides following a fascinating but scoreless first half, although both Ballack and Shevchenko had chances to break the deadlock shortly before the whistle blew for the break.
Chelsea take the lead
Into the second half, and the players had barely got back into their stride when Chelsea went ahead. A long pass from Ashley Cole found Drogba with his back to goal on the edge of the area. The Ivorian deftly turned his way round Carles Puyol and struck home an unstoppable drive.
The goal stunned Barça, and Chelsea took the opportunity to push forward in search of more, having three clear chances to add to the tally in the next fifteen minutes. Playing four against three on the counter attack, Mourinho was fuming to see his forwards waste a golden opportunity, and shortly after Shevchenko shot wide from the kind of position he would normally score with ease. Barça were constantly losing possession in key zones of the pitch, barely able to find a way into the Chelsea half, and in the 66th minute Drogba really should have tucked away his second, but his effort fell straight into the hands of Victor Valdés.
Not that Barça didn't have chances of their own. A beautifully struck Ronaldinho free kick was picked away by Hilario, while the stand-in keeper was also at hand to intercept a long range strike from Xavi. But although Barça were tiring, neither Iniesta coming on for Gio (leaving Barça to play just three at the back), nor Giuly replacing Gudjohnsen (to hearty applause from the fans of his former club) were able to stir up anything to overly trouble a Chelsea defence that was looking shockingly comfortable against Barcelona's usually lethal forward line. Messi put a header over the bar, Deco saw Hilario save another attempt, but it was all too little too late.
Job not yet done
Chelsea also showed that they have strength in depth. When Robben came on for Shevchenko, who did everything but score in this game, the Dutchman was also able to create all kinds of problems for Barça at the back, twice getting into scoring positions before the referee blew the whistle and Stamford Bridge was able to celebrate almost certain qualification for the second round.
Despite the defeat, Barça still have every reason to feel confident of joining them there, but tonight was certainly no vintage performance on the European stage, and will serve as a cruel reminder that retaining the Champions League crown is going to require a lot more of the team than we saw tonight.
The referees always seem to play a vital part in what is always a tense encounter between Barca and Chelsea and tonight's man in black is Frank de Bleeckere. The 40-year-old Belgian has previously been in charge of three Barca games -all of which we won.
Barca-Chelsea has become a classic in European football, with tonight's game the third in the Champions League in the last three seasons.
With the Madrid -Barca derby on the horizon, Barca face another major test tonight with their visit to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea - a team who've become almost as much a rival as Real Madrid over the last few seasons. Tonight's game is perhaps a little less of a do or die affair, with both teams likely to progress into the knock out stage - where the two have met each other in the last two years - though top spot in Group A is bound to depend on the result tonight and in a fortnight's time at the Nou Camp.
Twenty players travel: Rijkaard has taken a 20-man-squad to London, which will mean he'll have to leave two players up in the stands when he chooses his final 18 for the game. Sunday's win over Seville has boosted morale in the squad even higher and the players will certainly be looking to take something from Stamford Bridge, the ground where Barca last lost a Champions League game- in March 2005. Since then Rijkaard's men have gone 15 games unbeaten in the competition.
Team news: There's plenty of options available for the Barca boss, who is keeping his cards close to his chest as to his final team selection. At the heart of the defence, Puyol, Thurman and Marquez will fight for the two places available, with the Mexican also a possibility in the midfield holding role, where Edmilson and Motta are also in contention. Up front, Rijkaard can choose between the speed of Giuly and the magic of Messi, to partner either the trickery of Saviola or the strength of Gudjohnsen.
Keeper problems for Chelsea: The biggest problem facing Jose Mourinho is undoubtedly the absence of his two keepers Cech and Cudicini, who were both carried off in Saturday's game against Reading. Cech's injury is the most serious, but neither will be available for tonight's game and the unknown Portuguese keeper Hilario, the team's third choice goaly, looks set to face his biggest ever test. Mourinho also has Drogba, Ashley Cole and Makelele recovering from injury, whilst Barca will know they have to beware of the dangerous Shevchenko., who seems to have settled into a dangerous partnership with Drogba, and the ability of Frank Lampard to get into the box and score.
All square: It's a win apiece over the last two games between the two in London, with Barca's 4-2 defeat two years ago dumping them out of the competition, whilst last year's 1-2 win for Rijkaard's men set up their overall quarter final victory. Both games showed the teams at their typical game, with Barca dedicated to attack and the Blues always dangerous on the counter – the lessons are clear for Rijkaard and it seems certain we'll be in for a similarly exciting game tonight.