I’ll be honest to admit that Chelsea have far exceeded my expectations in the gruelling period the Blues have just gone through, one that leaves them on the brink of FA Cup and Champions League glory while being set to finish potentially outside the top four.
The latter bit of the reality at Stamford Bridge sets the club up for quite the thrilling climax to their season, which I’ll expatiate on right after coming to terms with what the club have achieved.
Following the draw in the West London derby at Craven Cottage, Chelsea was faced with a tasking run of matches that would see them face the Sillywhites in the FA Cup semi final before hosting Barcelona four days after, visiting Arsenal three days after and then visiting Barça in the return leg of their Champions League semi final.
A poor decision by the referee may have helped a very little in the 5-1 demolition of the Sillywhites but nonetheless it was a scoreline I least expected, as I was hoping those Londoners would rise to the occasion and serve up an intriguing semi-final that (preferably) would stretch into extra time and even to penalties.
Then came Barcelona to town and despite “gaining all the world”, it benefitted them none as Didier Drogba’s strike on the stroke of half time proved the only goal of the UCL semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge. Crucially, Barça was twice denied by the Chelsea post and more so, Ashley Cole cleared a Fabregas effort off the line.
Next up was Arsenal, my dear Arsenal at the Ems. With eight changes made; changes that meant no starting shirts for Mata, Lampard, Mikel, Ivanovic with a suspension, Ramires, Meireles and gunner-nemesis Drogba with a ‘knee injury’, Arsenal should’ve won this derby.
Alas, we were twice denied by the post but (thankfully) unlike Barça, there was no Drogba to score a match winner. Unfortunately, we neither got that. Goalless draw that ultimately left both clubs satisfied not to have lost.
At this point, it didn’t seem to me anymore that Roberto di Matteo had been riding his luck since becoming interim manager at the Bridge. He’d tinkered with the squad so much that Salomon Kalou was getting more games than the AVB-preferred Daniel Sturridge, and he was being vindicated all the way through those testy affairs.
One last tinkering needed to be done, at the imposing Camp Nou where Barcelona had won 24 successive league matches prior to effectively losing the title to mortal rivals Real Madrid with that 2-1 loss. Match winner of that night CR7 had been crowned world player of the year soon after, a move labelled immature and not well thought through…
If the first leg was dramatic, the second leg’s was gilt-edged epic as goals from Sergio ‘diving talent left unappreciated’ Busquets and Andres Iniesta either side of John Terry’s sending off meant Barcelona was cruising to another Champions League final, this time at Munich.
But just as against Real Madrid, the Catalans got pegged right after scoring with Ramires coming through with the crucial away goal for the Blues to wrap up a pulsating last 10 minutes of the first half.
Second half began in a frenzy and when the world’s beloved Lionel Messi stepped up to take that (hotly contested among fans hundred and thousand miles away) penalty, I’d have had my face, with its defeated countenance, covered by my palms if I was a fan of the Blues.
That penalty in my opinion made the 2012 world footballer of the year crown that of CR7, and that’s even if Real Madrid fail to make the Champions League final. It was a ‘moment’ that would surely have set tikitaka on their way to another final and the headlines would’ve told another tale of greatness from the Leo.
Alas… Messi missed!
I cannot imagine the levels the emotions of Chelsea fans such as my oldest brother would’ve reached in the closing moments of the match, more so when Messi saw an effort come off the Chelsea post and surreally so when El Niño sealed the fate of the night with a second goal for Chelsea deep in stoppage time… and probably also a place in Spain’s Euro 2012 armada.
There’s still some way to go for the Blues though, with two matches against Liverpool in the league and FA Cup final to come along with a league match against the in-form Newcastle United… thin is the line between a glorious campaign with two cups in the kitty or what could end up being a “what could have been… ” season.
As for Barcelona, “no love lost… no love found”. Fans of the Catalan club can cqmp with gooners who know all too well what it feels like to be thrown out of contention from at least two competitions in a week.