By JOHN BOSCHINI
It might not have been pretty, but some gritty defending combined with a clinical finish from Didier Drogba has given Chelsea the upper hand in their UEFA Champions League semifinal against Barcelona.
Chelsea held serve on a rainy night at Stamford Bridge in the first leg with a 1-0 win over Barcelona. The visitors dominated long portions of the game with nearly 80 percent possession and 24 shots, but shocking misses from Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets put Barcelona in need of a win at the Camp Nou next week.
Drogba scored on Chelsea's only shot on target, which came just before halftime. A costly turnover from Lionel Messi allowed Frank Lampard, Ramires and Drogba to break on the counterattack, and with the goal, Chelsea have scored first in all 11 Champions League games they've played this season. If they were to score again in the second leg, Barcelona would need to score at least three times to claim victory.
Barcelona began the match with their trademark domination of possession. The visitors controlled the ball close to 90 percent of the time in the early stages, while Chelsea was content to soak up pressure. Barcelona were almost ahead in the ninth minute when Sanchez beat the offside trap but his chip over Petr Cech shook the crossbar and stayed out.
Barcelona were wasteful with a plethora of chances for the rest of the first half. Fabregas whiffed on a shot eight yards out directly in front of a gaping goalmouth. The former Arsenal captain then saw his chip over Cech cleared by Ashley Cole just as it was about to cross the goal line. In the 30th minute, Messi's powerful header from near the edge of the box forced a fine save from Cech.
Chelsea scored on their first real opportunity at the end of the half. Messi, who had strained his groin minutes earlier slipping on the wet surface, coughed up possession in Chelsea's half. Lampard found a streaking Ramires, and the Brazilian cut the ball back across goal where Drogba swept it past Victor Valdes.
Barcelona resumed their dominant possession in the early stages of the second half but did not create as many chances. Sanchez received a floated pass from Fabregas but got the ball caught under his feet and his shot was just wide of the post. Barcelona had three free kicks from just outside the Chelsea area but were unable to test Cech.
Chelsea put just about everyone behind the ball for the final half-hour and were almost made to pay twice for their conservative play. Carles Puyol came close, but his backwards header was tipped behind by Cech in the 87th minute.
Barcelona's best chance came deep into stoppage time. Pedro's curling shot from the corner of the penalty area clanged off the post and fell to Busquets 10 yards out of a vacated goal, but he skied his shot into the Chelsea stands. Chelsea were able to see off the final few seconds and take a 1-0 lead back to Barcelona where the teams meet on Tuesday.
What do you think of today's result? Did Chelsea deserve their victory or should have Barcelona earned at least a draw? Who do you see advancing to the final?
Share your thoughts below.