Well, what can I say? A disappointing result, but one that I can live with. It went pretty much how one would expect. Barca tried to play their passing game and succeeded for most of the first half, but Drogba's goal was a killer blow. Chelsea for their part were very physical and very organised, and defenced brilliantly with 8 men behind the ball after they went ahead, never letting Barca back into the game while breaking at lightning speed whenever possible.
Rijkaard's comments after matches are always sensible and worth reading. In this case, I think he's absolutely right. We have to worry about qualifying first now. First we need a win at Camp Nou against Chelsea, and then to win the games against Bremen and Levski. There's no room for error, because Bremen in particular will be looking to cause an upset and qualify instead. The consequences of not getting through to the second round are unthinkable.
That said, the result isn't a disaster by any means, and wouldn't have been even if this were a knockout round game. I think that the display put in by some members of team are more worrying.
(4-1-3-2): Hilario; Khalid Boulahrouz, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Claude Makelele; Mickael Essien, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack; Andriy Shevchenko (76' Robben), Didier Drogba (90' Kalou).
Credit where credit is due - Chelsea deserved to win, because they took their chances.
Drogba was immense. Tireless running, good passing work and deadly finishing combined, a defender's worse nightmare. The sight of him makes me miss Eto'o even more, because that's the same kind of effect Sammy has. But anyway, he was brilliant. I can't overstate that. The goal was one for the highlight reel. Who needs Sheva, anyway?
Speaking of which, poor Shevchenko was really out of sorts. He didn't make too much of an impact. One gets the feeling that he's still stuck in Milan-mode, their way of passing and the service he used to get from the likes of Kaka and Pirlo. He'll get better, I'm sure, but right now Ballack looks the better of the two big signings.
That said, the best signing Mourinho made in this transfer window wasn't one of the big two at all. Stand up Khalid Boulahrouz. The Dutchman was joint man of the match with Drogba, for me. Ronaldinho got absolutely no quarter from him, and Messi didn't fare too much better. Fast, strong, and intelligent on the tackles, he made every other defender on the pitch look cheap. Especially Ashley Cole. He wasn't that bad, I suppose, but comparatively speaking not nearly as impressive considering the effort Chelsea went to in order to sign him. Messi was dealing with him very easily before he had to switch to the center.
The usual suspects such as Terry, Essien and Makelele put in solid performances and Hilario did his job well. Chelsea as a whole are so well organised and defensively excellent that with one great attacking player they can grind out results very easily. And now they have that with Drogba. They are going to be very difficult to beat in the Champions League if he can stay in that form. In the end, when it comes to a match like this, the team who has the most players actually turn up will win, and that's what happened today. That said, I believe that Barca should get a better result at the Camp Nou.
Starting line-up (4-3-3):
After the subs (3-4-3):
First, I do want to talk about Rijkaard's choices. Not to criticize them, but more to marvel at his sheer audacity. Changing to 3-4-3, which the team had probably never even practised before when we were one down and Chelsea were breaking with great effectiveness was pretty damn brave. Or stupid, if Chelsea had managed to score again.
(On a sidenote, does this give lie to the bashing of England's change to 3-5-2? The Barca players adapted quite well to the sudden change of formation, I thought.)
Anyway, back to the match. Some people say that he should have bought on Saviola in place of Gudjohnsen, which would have been more of a straight swap. I'd agree, actually, but it'd be interesting to hear his thinking on the subject. He must have had a reason for pushing Messi - who is most definitely not a target man - upfront. Giuly stayed on his wing while Messi and Ronaldinho changed positions, but both disappeared when they went into the central striker role.
I wasn't surprised to see Iniesta come on, but definitely surprised to see Gio go off. It was probably necessary since he'd already been booked and looked in danger of being sent off, but I don't recall Barca playing with 3 at the back at all in the last 2 seasons. Maybe the lack of Sylvinho in the squad meant that Rijkaard had no other choice. In any case, it worked out alright - meaning we didn't concede another goal - and we did need another man in midfield.
We really do need to work on defending set pieces. Every single one that Chelsea got looked dangerous. I know there's a height problem, but that shouldn't allow our players to leave the opponent unmarked.
There was some really nice attacking play in the build-up, but no finishing product. In the first half it was Chelsea losing the ball a lot in midfield, but as Barca got more frustrated looking for the equalizer we started losing the ball in dangerous positions. In those periods Chelsea looked dangerous every time they came forward and we couldn't replicate that without a cutting edge up front. That said, I was pleased with the team's general response to going behind, but that's not something we've had a problem with, having had to come from behind an alarming number of times this season.
The entire defence was immense. Most of them might have gone to sleep for Drogba's goal, but for the rest of the game they did much better than I expected. After switching to only 3 at the back, they did very well to close out the spaces and not concede another.
Valdes made a couple of crucial saves and generally commanded the box well. Zambrotta was excellent at the back although still less effective going forward. Marquez put in yet another great performance, including a couple of crucial clearances and tackles. I think he's actually a better defender than Puyol. Rafa and Thuram together are pretty much impossible to get through.
Puyol did the best he could, but he's not particularly fast or tall, and while his value to the team is immeasurable, his is the triumph of effort over inspiration. Doesn't take away from how indispensable he is to the team, but it does mean that he has his off moments - like for Drogba's goal. To be fair to him, his injury was acting up again and eventually led to his substitution. Puyol has been plagued with recurring injuries for 3 seasons now, not surprising considering that he's played almost every match he was fit for. It had to come back to haunt him sometime.
Gio tried hard, but with Ronaldinho being pinned back he couldn't go forward much. Did his defensive duties adequately until he was substituted.
Like many Barca fans, I nearly had a heart attack when Oleguer came on for Puyol. Him in a 3-men backline? We were sure to concede more now. However, he did ever so well coping with difficult circumstances. I didn't envy him going up against the much faster Robben at all, but it was fine in the end.
As a whole, they had to work very hard running constantly from box to box, covering the defence - especially after the switch to a back 3. The effort started to show towards the end, but a valiant performance from all 4 of them. More of the same against Real, please.
Edmilson looked better than his last couple of outings, screening the defence effectively, especially after the switch to 3-4-3. Offensively he wasn't all that involved, but that's not what we have him for.
I wasn't too impressed with Deco, whose passing seemed off and who didn't get into the game enough, but then he was involved in most of our best passing moves and had enormous defensive responsibilities to deal with, so perhaps that's a more than reasonable performance.
Xavi did quite well down the right, combining nicely with Messi. His passing was just as good as usual, although it was without penetration like much of the rest of Barca's forward play. Also took a couple of good shots at goal, which I'd like to see him do more often. Probably the best of the midfielders.
That is not to say that Iniesta didn't do well coming on as a substitute. He actually looked likely to unlock the massed Chelsea defence, unlike most of the other attackers on the field at that point, with his typical probing runs and great sense of positioning. Predictably muscled out of the game as it went on, though.
Gudjohnsen has some serious problems integrating into the team. I know he's a great guy who's made a huge effort to fit in quickly, but a performance like this is unacceptable. He had no shots in the first half and barely touched the ball. He needs to either gel with Ronaldinho, Messi, and the midfielders quickly or Rijkaard needs to try Saviola instead.
Ronaldinho...what can I say? Little contribution of note except a couple of nice passes and one free-kick on goal, and the rest of his set pieces were notable for how bad they were, to the point where I was wondering why Deco or Xavi wasn't taking them instead. It was more credit to Boulahrouz than anything else that he was so ineffective, but as the only member of the team who doesn't have to track back and defend (in fact poor Deco had to cover for him all the time), we expect more from him. Really needs to get back to full physical fitness as well.
Messi was Barca's best attacking player until he had to switch to center forward. He gave Ashley Cole the runaround when Ronaldinho couldn't get an inch past Boulahrouz, and helped out effectively in midfield. A good performance, but unable to turn the tide like he did at Bremen.
Giuly came on at a difficult time and responded very well. He also gave Ashley Cole problems on the right and made some nice runs into the area, but in the end was predictably muscled out of the game by the massed Chelsea defence. His form at least looks okay, though.
It's fairly obvious at this point that we badly miss Eto'o - or good old Henke Larsson, for that matter. It's all well and good to create chances in front of the box, but what happens when there's no one to finish them? This is the problem Rijkaard will have to solve quickly and effectively, because no matter how much we need him now, Sammy is out for another 4 months. Wishing won't change that.
Rijkaard's other problem is getting his out of sorts big players - Ronaldinho, Deco and possibly Puyol fit and back into form. Those 3 are key to us winning anything at all. They can be replaced, with the depth of the squad, but that leads to an automatic drop in quality.
Not a good day for Barca, but we have to quickly move on. El Gran Classico awaits on Sunday, and I think it's going to be very tough beating Real at their home ground this time. The early bad news is that Puyol's injury may keep him out, although he's determined to get fit and play no matter what - typical of our captain. I hope he doesn't push himself too hard. In the meantime, hopefully the squad can get their heads on straight after such a demoralising loss.